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Tensions rise in Iraq as protesters demonstrate against the occupation of Parliament

#Tensions #rise #Iraq #protesters #demonstrate #occupation #Parliament

Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad on Monday in counter-protests as rival supporters of Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr extended their occupation of parliament to a third day.

Nearly 10 months after Iraqis went to the polls, a political stalemate is erupting between two key factions on the Shia political scene, between the populist Sadr with a devoted following of millions and the powerful pro-Iran Coordination Framework.

“The people will not allow a coup,” read placards held by supporters of the Coordination Framework as they gathered on a main street leading to the Green Zone, the seat of parliament that Sadr’s supporters have occupied since Saturday.

“It is the parliament of the people of all Iraqis, not the parliament of a select group,” said 25-year-old protester Ahmed Ali, condemning “the storming” of government institutions.

Police fired water cannons at crowds to prevent them from crossing a bridge leading to the Green Zone, where thousands of Sadr supporters continued their protests, waving flags and carrying placards of their leader.

Sadr’s supporters broke through the normally highly secure green zone – which also houses government buildings and embassies – on Saturday in protest at the coordination framework’s appointment of the prime minister.

– ‘Defend the State’ –

Taking to social media, supporters of the Coordination Framework urged supporters not to enter the Green Zone, saying their aim was to “defend the state and its legitimacy”.

In multi-sectarian, multi-ethnic Iraq, forming a government has involved complex negotiations since the 2003 overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein by a US-led invasion.

In this case, the protracted political deadlock has left the country without a government, a new prime minister or a new president.

Sadr’s massive mobilization of supporters in recent weeks has underscored the political clout of the incendiary preacher, who once led a militia against US and Iraqi government forces.

The Coordinating Framework Alliance includes MPs from the party of Sadr’s longtime enemy, ex-Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

It also represents the powerful pro-Iranian former paramilitary alliance Hashed al-Shaabi, which is now integrated into the regular armed forces.

Hadi al-Ameri, who leads a Hashed faction, reiterated on Monday a call for “constructive dialogue that will make it possible to find solutions to contentious issues.”

He warned of “an atmosphere of media escalation, triggered by declarations and counter-declarations that call for mass mobilizations that could spiral out of control and lead to violence.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said Tehran respects “the decision of the Iraqi people” and that “dialogue is the best way to solve Iraq’s internal problems.”

– ‘government of the corrupt’ –

Sadr’s 73 MPs made up the largest group of Parliament’s 329 MPs, but they were unable to cobble together a government.

They resigned in June, a move that made their pro-Iranian rivals the largest bloc in the legislature.

But the Sadrist camp was outraged by the recent nomination of former minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani by the prime ministerial coordination framework, prompting them to occupy parliament for a second time on July 30 last week.

On Sunday, the moody Sadr called for “all…support the reformist revolutionaries.”

He hailed a “spontaneous revolution in the Green Zone – a first step,” he said, “towards an extraordinary opportunity for fundamental change.”

The Coordination Framework described the appeal as a “call for a coup d’état against the people, the state and its institutions”.

Supporters of Sadr chanted slogans in the entrance hall of the legislature on Monday.

“Here are the soldiers of the sons of Sayyed,” they cried, using an honorific allusion to the preacher, who wears a black turban symbolic of a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.

“We want to get rid of the corrupt government,” said protester Zaher al-Atabi. “From 2003 to now, those running the country have done nothing to develop public services, no health care system, no education.”

But while the cleric’s supporters see him as a persistent briber, Sadrists hold posts at the highest levels of government ministries — and opponents accuse them of being just as corrupt as Iraq’s other political forces.

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#Tensions #rise #Iraq #protesters #demonstrate #occupation #Parliament

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