BAGHDAD: Thousands of supporters of powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr answered his call to demonstrate in Baghdad yesterday to pressure the Iraqi government to move forward with stalled reforms. Iraq has been hit by weeks of political turmoil surrounding Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s efforts to replace the cabinet of party-affiliated ministers with a government of technocrats.
The proposed changes have been opposed by powerful political parties that rely on control of ministries for patronage and funds, and parliament has repeatedly failed to vote on a new cabinet list. The demonstrators, many of them carrying Iraqi flags, marched from Tahrir Square in central Baghdad to an entrance to the heavily-fortified Green Zone, where the government is headquartered, chanting that politicians “are all thieves.”
“Our participation in the demonstration aims to reject this government for being sectarian,” protester Abu Ali Al-Zaidi said. Key government posts have for years been shared out based on political and sectarian quotas, a practice demonstrators have called to end. The government “did not bring the country and Iraqis anything but poverty and killing,” said Zaidi, who travelled from Maysan province in southern Iraq to take part in the protest. “All Iraqis must protest to reject this government, which failed in all fields,” said Abu Mohammed Al-Sudani, a demonstrator from Baghdad.
“The political quotas and the parties that control everything are the reason for the failure of the government,” said Sudani, who carried an Iraqi flag. Sadr, the scion of a powerful clerical family who in earlier years raised a rebellion against US-led forces and commanded a feared militia, called for a mass demonstration in Baghdad yesterday to pressure the government to carry out reforms.
The protest came on the same day that parliament speaker Salim Al-Juburi was seeking to hold a session to vote on a new cabinet. Parliament has been paralyzed for weeks by the dispute over the cabinet, with MPs holding a sit-in, brawling in the chamber, seeking to sack the speaker and repeatedly failing to move forward on the issue of new ministers. Abadi called a week ago for parliament to put aside its differences and do its job, saying he hoped for a vote on a new cabinet within days-something that has yet to take place.
Abadi called in February for “fundamental” change to the cabinet so that it includes “professional and technocratic figures and academics”. That kicked off the latest chapter in a months-long saga of Abadi proposing various reforms that parties and politicians with interests in the existing system have sought to delay or undermine. The political crisis comes as Iraqi forces battle to regain more ground from the Islamic State group, and both the United Nations and Washington have warned that it could undermine the fight against the jihadists. Iraq has also been hit hard by the plummeting price of oil, revenues from which account for the vast majority of government funds._ AFP
He warned against delays in the completion of reforms, calling on his supporters to stay in the streets until all changes and reforms are complete.
“We swear to God, our young people and the army to continue the jihad on the battlefield against terrorists,” Al-Sadr said.
The “million-man march” was called for by influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ahead of a scheduled parliament session to vote on a new government.
Many of the protesters are aligned with former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and have demanded the resignation of the current Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, as well as other high-level leaders.
The Parliament approved a partial cabinet “reshuffle,” originally proposed by al-Abadi.
The move would transfer key portfolios to independent technocrats in an effort to rid the government of “patronage and corruption that have hindered the provision of public services since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion,” according to The Associated Press.
In preparation for the massive protests, Iraqi security forces blocked off all roads leading to the downtown Tahrir Square with razor wire and concrete blocks.
Some protesters arrived several weeks ago and have been holding a “sit-in” outside of the heavily guarded Green Zone, creating huge traffic jams in parts of the city.
Many demonstrators carried photos of Muqtada al-Sadr and praised him with songs.
Protesters said they would not leave Tahrir Square until a new government was in place, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Col. Steve Warren, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said American military personnel and operations were not affected by today’s protests.
The demonstrators convened in central Baghdad’s Tahrir Square in response to a call from Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, waving Iraqi flags amid festering dissatisfaction over rampant corruption and bitterness over economic stagnation and the country’s military inefficacy against Islamic State, which still holds a quarter of Iraqi territory.
The protesters said they wouldn’t leave the square until parliament voted in a new leadership unaffiliated with Iraqi political parties, most of which are aligned with the country’s many ethnic and sectarian identities. Many Iraqi politicians have expressed concerns, however, that Mr. Sadr’s followers are really pressing sectarian demands. By evening many had dispersed, with those who remained leaving the International Zone and returning to the square to sleep.
The beginning of the cabinet voting appeared to appease Mr. Sadr and his supporters for the time being.
“Today the change has been achieved by your insistence,” said Khadhum al-Essawi, an assistant to Mr. Sadr, in an address to protesters Tuesday evening. “We are demanding to change the whole cabinet with no exceptions, but we accepted the current change just to let things move on.”
Parliament announced lawmakers cast their ballots on seven ministerial posts on Tuesday, correcting earlier state television reports that they had voted on nine. Among the posts they voted on, the parliament retained only the justice and education ministers from the current government. Speaker Salim al-Jubori suspended voting until Thursday for a remaining 21 positions.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi last year announced a slate of reforms intended to reduce the size of government, diminish sectarian quotas in the cabinet and improve the delivery of basic services, including electricity.
But ministers and lawmakers, many of whom rely on corruption and a system of patronage based on the sectarian quotas, have repeatedly delayed voting on them.
Parliament’s installation of a technocratic cabinet would mark a major departure from Iraq’s long-standing political tradition in which parties representing ethnic and religious groups—primarily Kurds and Sunni and Shiite Arabs—grapple for power.
The political turmoil threatens Iraq’s already fragile government, which has struggled to turn back Islamic State’s gains. Since oil prices plummeted in 2014, unemployment has soared.
Thousands of Mr. Sadr’s followers protested in Baghdad last month, their sit-in breaching the gates of the International Zone. They were joined by a cross-sectarian group of legislators who demanded the resignation of Mr. Jubori, Mr. Abadi and Iraqi President Fouad Masoum.
Some of those lawmakers have staged a sit-in in the parliament building, sparking fistfights and shouting matches. Parliamentary leaders shut off the chambers’ water and power last week in a bid to oust them.
The insurgent members repeatedly interrupted Tuesday’s parliament session, shouting that the session was illegal and calling for the dismissal of top leaders, including Mr. Jubori, who later moved the session to another room in the assembly hall to avoid further disruption.
It was unclear if the approval of the seven new ministers would end the sit-in.
“Such opposition and chanting inside the parliament is a democratic thing, but we also believe that this delays parliament’s performance,” said Majid Shingali, a parliamentarian who participated in the vote.
State television said 180 members were in attendance, but past head counts have been disputed. A quorum mandates that 165 be present.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Hundreds of Iraqis from other parts of the country were pouring into Baghdad Monday for a million-man anti-government march for the next day, called by Shiite firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Protesters are planning to gather at Baghdad’s main Tahrir Square to call for the ouster of corrupt politicians. The square is reportedly in control of Sadr supporters.
Protests have continued in the capital since last month, when Sadr staged a sit-in inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, demanding that Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi throw out corrupt officials and announce a new cabinet.
“Our main demand is to put an end to corruption,” one of the protesters told Rudaw in the Iraqi capital.
“The present and former Iraqi politicians had a hand in destroying Iraq and in corruption. They handed Iraq into the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS). They handed Mosul to ISIS, and finally the country has collapsed,” he said.
The Iraqi government has been at war with ISIS since June 2014, when the militants swept across the country and seized a third of the territory.
Government coffers also have been emptied because of the war, and reportedly due to massive corruption inside the previous government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Parliamentary auditors say they have also found irregularities in the present government’s massive arms purchases.
Meanwhile, the parliament has remained paralyzed over moves to oust the speaker, Salim al-Jabouri, who has said he is determined to remain at his post and that moves to unseat him are illegal.
A new cabinet cannot be named before it is approved by parliament.
“We want a technocratic government and we are sending a message to the Iraqi politicians. We are here for reform,” said another protester. “If they think we will get tired they are wrong, we will not, even if we stay here for three years we will achieve reforms,” he warned.
The Rudaw correspondent in Baghdad said that security forces had surrounded ministries in Baghdad, were gates were padlocked.
Supporters of prominent Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr shout slogans during a protest against government corruption after Friday prayers in Baghdad’s Sadr City, April 8, 2016.
4 hours ago
SULAIMANI – Iraq’s religious and political figure Moqtada al-Sadr issued a call on Saturday (April 23) for Iraqis to hold demonstrations to pressure lawmakers to vote in a new cabinet.
Sadr called for a million people to take to the streets across the country on Monday (April 25) and push parliamentarians to vote on the new appointees in a “free and transparent” session.
“Some political parties don’t want the parliament session to be held,” Sadr said in the statement, accusing some MPs of stalling the reform process. “All people should participate in a peaceful demonstration.”
Sadr called recent peaceful demonstrations in the country’s capital “historical” and urged for a large turnout on Monday.
“Your readiness for a demonstration of a million on Monday will frighten the authorities and oblige them to hold a parliamentary session to vote [the new cabinet] freely and transparently,” he said.
Imad Khafaji, Spokesman for Iraqi Parliament’s Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, said on Sunday (April 24) that parliament would hold a session on at 1 pm on Tuesday (April 26) to discuss reform and new cabinet reshuffle.
Jabouri ordered the suspension of the assembly on April 22 due to ongoing political disputes in over government reforms and a cabinet shakeup.
Leaders in Iraq and Coalition countries have warned that political disputes among blocs threaten the effort to advance against Islamic State militants.
Muqtada al-Sadr: From Rabid Warlord to Iraqi Gandhi
April 24, 2016
Who are you and what have you done with Muqtada al-Sadr? The man impersonating Iraq’s firebrand Shia cleric gave himself away early Wednesday when he called on the United Nations and Organization for Islamic Cooperation to mediate the country’s boiling political crisis. Cue spit take. How does one go from rabid warlord to Iraqi Gandhi in the space of a decade? Muqtada’s dumbfounding metamorphosis lies somewhere between maniacal and Machiavellian.
Al-Sadr is the most revered name in Shia Iraq and, for many, synonymous with unflinching anti-imperialism. Before Muqtada surfaced in Western newspapers, the al-Sadr family name had already been twice immortalized by martyrdom. Sayyid Muhammad al-Sadr played an active role in the 1920 uprising against the British. Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (in folklore, Sadr I) helped establish the Islamic Dawa Party in 1958 to defend the hawza, or community of Shia scholarship, against the secularization of Iraqi society. Saddam Hussein hanged Baqir on April 8, 1980—he was the first Grand Ayatollah to be executed in modern history.
Whereas Baqir advocated for a political revolution, his cousin Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (Sadr II) built a mass movement, one that would restore Shiism’s relevance to the spiritual and sociopolitical needs of the faithful. After the United States routed the Iraqi military and expelled it from Kuwait in 1991, the Shia rose up in the hope that Washington would come to their aid. No help came. Following Saddam’s horrific suppression of the Shaaban Intifada, Iraq’s Shia poor were angry and fearful. Compounding the suffering, UN sanctions devastated the Iraqi masses rather than the political elite supposedly targeted. Sadiq’s overt hostility to the West resonated profoundly. He prefaced his Friday sermons with “No, no to America! No, no to Israel!” Saddam assassinated Sadiq and his two elder sons on February 19, 1999.
Muqtada assumed leadership over the Sadrist movement after the murder of his father and brothers. The coalition invasion enabled Muqtada to transform himself from little known, modestly credentialed cleric to one of the most important political figures in post-Saddam Iraq. Muqtada’s vigorous nationalism and unwavering anti-Americanism were central to his popular appeal. When Washington set up the Iraqi Governing Council on July 13, 2003, rival Shia and secular leaders eagerly joined. Muqtada did not. More so than any other leader in occupied Iraq, Muqtada understood the grave domestic consequences of being perceived as a puppet of a foreign entity.
Muqtada tailored his messaging to the young, poor, urbanized Shia. International Crisis Group observed in 2006 that, from the outset, Muqtada “gave voice to a proud, authentic popular identity while advocating violent struggle against the root causes of oppression.” As far as the Sadrists were concerned, the root causes of oppression in post-Saddam Iraq emanated, above all, from the American occupying force.
Only a true Iraqi, Muqtada argued, could legitimately wield religious and political power over Iraq’s Shia. While other Shia leaders adopted a conciliatory posture towards coalition forces, Muqtada invoked his father’s hostility towards the West and framed the occupation as the continuation of the abject suffering imposed upon Iraq’s Shia during the sanctions regime the previous decade.
Muqtada formed the Mahdi Army (Jaysh al-Mahdi or JAM) in June 2003. Lebanese Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh reportedly helped form JAM by recruiting Kuwaiti and Saudi Shia, and then sending them to Lebanon for basic militia training.
In the eyes of many, Muqtada’s hands will forever be stained with the blood of Americans and Iraqis alike. On April 4, 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority issued an arrest warrant for Muqtada. The Sadrist leader retreated to Kufa and issued a direct call to arms. In a Friday sermon, Muqtada declared, “I and my followers of the believers have come under attack from the occupiers, imperialism, and the appointees. . . . Be on the utmost readiness, and strike them where you meet them.” In Sadr City, JAM fighters pinned down a patrol from the First Cavalry Division and stormed seven police stations in the area. Eight U.S. soldiers were killed and fifty-one were wounded. JAM took up tactical positions in and around the holy shrines of Najaf, Kufa and Karbala. The fighting lasted nearly two months.
The Sadrist masses pitched a sprawling protest camp just outside the Green Zone’s fortified walls. The deadline passed in early March with no progress. Instead of ordering his legions to storm the Green Zone, Muqtada nonchalantly strutted in himself, accompanied by only a handful of aides. The optics were impeccable. The soldiers defending the capital’s most secure zone literally embraced him. “The general in charge of security knelt and kissed his hand,” the Washington Post reported.
Muqtada’s aides set up camp. Five days later, Abadi proposed a reformist, technocratic cabinet to parliament, going so far as to thank Muqtada in his speech. Parliament’s sectarian power brokers predictably erected roadblocks. Muqtada redirected his threat-laden rhetoric their way. Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah reportedly attempted to broker a truce between Muqtada and the still-powerful Nouri al-Maliki. He was unsuccessful.
Wednesday witnessed the political crisis’s apex. Muqtada called for “peaceful protests under the same intensity and even more in order to pressure the politicians and the lovers of corruption.” Moreover, “Nobody has the right to stop it otherwise the revolution will take another turn.” And then it happened. Not unlike George H. W. Bush reversing his “read my lips” pledge not to raise taxes, Iraq’s most demagogic nationalist appealed for foreign intervention. “We call upon the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the United Nations to interfere to get the Iraqi people out of their ordeal and to correct the political process even through holding early elections.”
Some analysts believe Muqtada is cynically hijacking Abadi’s reform agenda—publicly championing anticorruption, while privately blocking progress. It’s probably too soon to tell. Muqtada al-Sadr has never been one thing. During the American occupation, he was at once proxy, populist, patriot, politician—and, to AQI, pagan. Plotting his trajectory can feel like a fool’s errand. Muqtada may not appear himself, but he probably hasn’t truly shed his populist skin to don an establishment suit. He won’t betray his nationalist roots so lightly.
Zach Abels is assistant editor at the National Interest.
Iraqi Cleric Calls For Protests, Global Intervention To Force Reforms
April 21, 2016
Iraq’s influential Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for renewed protests and international intervention after powerful factions in parliament once against blocked a government reform effort.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has been seeking to overhaul the government and rid it of corruption, having offered a new cabinet of technocrats earlier this month to replace officials who obtained their positions through political patronage.
But entrenched interests have used parliamentary tactics to block those and other changes, delaying installation of the new government past a deadline of April 19 laid down by the cleric.
That led Sadr on April 20 to call for “continuing peaceful protests in the same intensity and even more…to pressure the politicians and the lovers of corruption.”
He also warned Abadi not to restrict a resumption of protests in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. “Nobody has the right to stop it, otherwise the revolution will take another turn,” he said.
And Sadr appealed for international aid.
“We call upon the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the United Nations to interfere to get the Iraqi people out of their ordeal and to correct the political process, even through holding early elections.”
The people of Iraq, since 2011, have been watching protests held at the Liberation Square and in many other streets in Baghdad. Most demonstrations are provoked by the governmental corruption, sectarian division and the absence of public service.
As for the parliament, ministers are protesting against the current parliamentary premiership, demanding the removal of Salim al-Jabouri, the Parliament’s Spokesman, and his two deputies; and the Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.
Protesting ministers only seem to aim at removing premierships from office, while acting on the impulse of desiring themselves and their affiliated parties high-up posts and places of authority, which they can later exploit.
Since July, 2015 large protests moved under the leadership of the Civil Democratic Alliance, and demonstrated nearly each and every Friday since. Protesters were restricted to a single party, until the Sadrist movement leader Muqtada al-Sadr decided to breake into the arena of demonstrations, transforming all his followers into potent protestors who gather across Iraq in masses comprising hundreds of thousands of people.
The marches have made a revolutionary politician out of al-Sadr, after he was a religious figurehead only. After taking a stand in the Green Zone for four days, al-Sadr now comes to enjoy a superior religious authority garnished with a political revolutionary zest.
Moving throughout the social spectrum of Iraq, al-Sadr now has power over the poor, all his followers perceive him as a defender of the underprivileged.
Sadrists (follower of the Sadrist movement), caught up in the heat of the rallies, erected gallows in the middle of the Liberation Square, as to threaten corrupt politicians , which received negative response from most Iraqis and was opposed by both the Civil Democratic Alliance and the Sadrist movement leadership.