Middle East

In a new power play, Iraq’s Sadr is mobilizing supporters for mass prayers

#power #play #Iraqs #Sadr #mobilizing #supporters #mass #prayers

Tens of thousands gathered in Baghdad’s Green Zone on Friday for mass prayers in a new power play by Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr after his opponents gave conditional support to his call for early elections.

Sadr, a longtime political and religious force in the war-torn country, has been locked in a political standoff with a rival alliance backed by Iran for months.

The faithful gathered in a huge square inside the normally safe Green Zone, which houses government and diplomatic buildings, including Parliament, which its supporters have occupied since last Saturday.

Sadr’s mass call to prayer follows his call for early elections — a possibility the rival bloc says it is partially open to, despite the fact that the last national election was held just a decade or so ago.

The country’s political factions have been unable to form a government, even as the country struggles with rampant corruption, crumbling infrastructure and unemployment.

Sheikh Ali al-Atabi, 38, joined the crowd to support Sadr. Calling people to Friday prayers is “part of his repertoire” if he “wants to use people for something,” explained Atabi.

A similar call to prayer and pressure tactics by Sadr in mid-July lured hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshipers to Sadr City, a Baghdad neighborhood named after his murdered father.

Also on the way to midday prayers, Qassem Abu Mustafa, 40, described the gathering as “a thorn” that “pricked the enemy to demand parliamentary elections and reforms.”

“The prayer will be the prayer of a million people,” the official said.

– Devoted following –

Worshipers, mostly men but also some women, used umbrellas to protect themselves from Baghdad’s 42 degrees Celsius (108 Fahrenheit) heat.

Some waved Iraqi flags and bore portraits of Sadr and shouted, “Yes, yes, Sayyed,” a nod to his formal title.

“Whatever Mr. Sadr thinks, we are with him,” Abu Mustafa said.

Months of post-election negotiations between Sadr’s bloc – the largest in parliament – and other factions failed to result in an agreement on a new government, prime minister and president.

Sadr’s bloc emerged from the October elections as the largest parliamentary bloc, but still far from a majority.

In June, its 73 MPs resigned to break the blockade. This resulted in a rival Shia bloc, the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, becoming the largest in the legislature.

The Coordination Framework’s appointment of former cabinet minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as prime minister angered the Sadrists and triggered their occupation of Parliament.

With armed groups linked to Iraq’s various political factions, the United Nations has warned of the risk of escalating political tensions.

On Wednesday, Sadr called for the dissolution of parliament and new elections. His opponents in the coordination framework said Thursday night they were conditionally open to the idea, signaling a possible de-escalation.

In a brief statement, the Coordination Framework said it “reaffirms its support for any constitutional way to resolve the political crises and realize people’s interests, including early elections.”

But “a national consensus on the issue and the provision of a safe environment” are prerequisites for such surveys, it said.

Most notably, the framework stressed the importance of not “interfering with the workings” of constitutional institutions – a clear indication of the occupation of Parliament by Sadr’s supporters.

The coordination framework includes lawmakers from the party of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a longtime enemy of Sadr, and Hashed al-Shaabi, a pro-Iranian ex-paramilitary network now integrated with the security forces.

According to the constitution, parliament can only be dissolved by a majority vote. Such a vote may be taken at the request of a third of the MPs or by the Prime Minister with the consent of the President.

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