Pro-government million march organized in Baghdad
By David Fisher on August 28, 2015
– Both in parliament and in the streets, political pressure is rising in Iraq
By Abdullah Saad
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Last week, the influential Shia religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr called on his supporters to take part in mass anti-corruption protests in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Friday.
For the past three weeks, Baghdad and other cities in central and southern Iraq have witnessed demonstrations demanding government reforms, the prosecution of those stealing public money and the provision of basic services to the public.
Amidst this popular movement, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi proposed a package of reforms that were quickly approved by parliament earlier this month.
The Liberal Bloc, a parliamentary group inside the Iraqi parliament, were called on by Sadr to organize a million-man march in Baghdad last Monday – the first call of its kind at a popular level.
The demonstration aims to ease the pressure being put on Abadi by political forces opposed to his reforms.
Abdul Azeez al-Dhalimi, a member of the bloc, told Anadolu Agency: “Al-Sadr previously expressed his support for the demonstrations across many governorates demanding services to the public.”
“The call to organize a million-man march in Baghdad is in compliance with the position of the religious authority in Najaf (referring to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s highest Shia authority), which supports the popular movement,” he said. “It supports al-Abadi and his government in removing the pressure that he is facing from certain political parties that are working to obstruct the reforms.”
Despite the federal Iraqi government announcing its support for the demonstrations, it has not hidden its fear of the protests spiraling out of control and turning into an armed conflict or attacks on public property, such as in Karbala and Babel.
The Supreme Islamic Council, led by Ammar al-Hakeem, is considered one of the most prominent parties participating in the government.
Through his spokesman Hameed Mali, al-Hakeem said there were indicators of external agendas aiming to derail the popular movement, which had started by demanding rights and reforms, but ended by targeting political and religious figures with hostile banners.
Ali al-Alaq is an MP with the State of Law Coalition, which is close to al-Abadi and his government.
He told Anadolu Agency that the “million-man march on Friday will be like all the other demonstrations that other governorates have witnessed, which the government dealt with positively and respected the demonstrators and provided them with protection.”
“Freedom of demonstration is a guaranteed right, and no one can stand in the face of the demonstrations – so long as they maintain their peaceful and civilized nature, express legal demands within the confines of the law and constitution, and preserve security and the public interest,” al-Alaq said.
Al-Abadi is now facing pressure from the other end of the political spectrum, with some political parties criticizing him for not committing to a deadline for the implementation of the reforms.
The most prominent criticism came from the State of Law Coalition’s Hanan al-Fatlawi last Sunday, when she demanded to know why al-Abadi had not yet issued an order to cancel the positions of Iraq’s three vice-presidents as his reforms had pledged.
Both in parliament and in the streets, political pressure is rising in Iraq.