Supporters of Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr set up tents and prepare for a long sit-in against their rivals’ attempts to form a government.
(al Jazeera)Supporters of powerful Iraqi leader Muqtada al-Sadr have pitched tents and are preparing for a long sit-in in Iraq’s parliament, deepening a month-long political deadlock. On Saturday, supporters of the firebrand al-Sadr made their way into the legislative chamber. It failed to lead to the formation of a government, for the second time since the October elections.
“The protesters announced a sit-in until further notice,” al-Sadr’s movement said in a brief statement to reporters carried by the state news agency INA.
Nearly 10 months after the October elections, Iraq is still without a new government, despite intense talks between the factions. Government formation in the oil-rich country has involved complicated negotiations since the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein under the leadership of the United States.
Supporters of al-Sadr, who once led militias against US and Iraqi government forces, oppose the choice of a pro-Iranian Shia bloc for prime minister – Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. The designation traditionally goes to a figure of Iraq ‘s Shia majority .
“We don’t want Mr. Sudanese,” said one
Demonstrator Sattar al-Aliawi, a 47-year-old civil servant.
He said he was protesting the “corrupt and incompetent government” and would “sleep here” in the gardens of Parliament. “People have completely rejected those parties which have ruled the country for 18 years,” he said. On Sunday morning, protesters marked the Muslim month of Muharram with religious chants and mass meals.
“We were hoping for the best but we got the worst. The politicians currently in parliament have given us nothing,” said 45-year-old Abdelwahab al-Jaafari.
Volunteers distributed soup, hard-boiled eggs, bread and water to the protesters. Some spent the night laying blankets on the marble floor inside the Parliament. Others walked into the gardens on plastic mats under palm trees. Al-Sadr’s faction emerged as the largest parliamentary faction in the elections held in October, but still fell short of a majority, creating the country’s longest political vacuum since 2003.
In June, 73 of al-Sadr’s legislators gave up their seats as an attempt to pressure their rivals to fast-track government formation. This led to the pro-Iran bloc becoming the largest in parliament, but still there was no agreement on the name of a new prime minister, president or cabinet. Saturday’s demonstrations came three days after a crowd of al-Sadr supporters breached the green zone and entered the legislature on Wednesday.
The standoff is Iraq’s biggest crisis in years. In 2017, Iraqi forces, together with a US-led coalition and Iranian military support, defeated the ISIL (ISIS) group, which occupied a third of Iraq. Two years later, Iraqis were faced with a lack of jobs and services. Corruption in the streets, new elections and demands for the removal of all parties – especially powerful Shia groups – have run the country since 2003. Al-Sadr continues to ride the wave of popular opposition from its Iran-backed rivals, saying they are corrupt and serve the interests of Tehran, not Baghdad.