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Rival sit-ins deepen political deadlock in Iraq

#Rival #sitins #deepen #political #deadlock #Iraq

Opponents of populist Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr launched their own sit-in in Baghdad on Friday, nearly two weeks after Sadr supporters stormed parliament and launched an open-ended protest first inside, then outside the legislature.

The opposing camps are the latest twist in a standoff between Iraq’s rival Shia blocs that has so far remained peaceful in the war-torn country.

The pro-Iranian Coordinating Framework said it would hold an “indefinite sit-in” to urge the rapid formation of a new government to end the months-long deadlock.

The announcement came in a statement read to thousands of bloc supporters who had gathered on an approach road to the capital’s Green Zone, home to government and diplomatic buildings and parliament.

“We don’t know how long we will stay,” said Abu Jabal, a 32-year-old day laborer. “Five months, ten months, we don’t know. Everything is ready, there will be food.”

An AFP correspondent saw protesters pitching large tents to camp.

Loyalists of Sadr, a revered Shia cleric who once led a militia against US and Iraqi government forces, have called for snap elections after the Coordination Framework named a candidate for prime minister.

The Coordination Framework — an alliance bringing together ex-Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s party, a longtime Sadr enemy, and Hashed al-Shaabi, a pro-Iranian former paramilitary network now integrated into the security forces — wants a new government as soon as possible.

– ‘New Faces’ –

A statement from the alliance called for the “formation of a new government” that would provide public services and solutions to power outages and water shortages.

Maliki said in a statement that Friday’s mobilization showed that “no party can conquer the street at the expense of another”.

“We are here to protect the state and the constitution,” said Abu Mehdi, a protest organizer from the town of Hilla, south of the capital.

“Give the coordination framework a chance to form a government.”

Earlier in the day, thousands of Sadr supporters gathered near Parliament for weekly Muslim prayers.

A week earlier, Sadr had called tens of thousands of his followers to prayer in the area.

For almost two weeks, his supporters have been holding sit-ins every day, first in parliament and later on his grounds.

Their protest reflects months of failed negotiations by Iraqi political forces to form a new government after October’s inconclusive elections.

Outside the parliament, Umm Hussein, a Sadr supporter in her 50s, said she was there to protest “the regime that has done nothing for the people for 20 years except loot and steal public funds.”

“Ninety percent of the population lives in poverty, in disease, in hunger,” she complained, calling for “new faces” at the top who “serve the people.”

– ‘Long Battle’ –

Sadr’s supporters also rallied in the southern cities of Amarah, Kut and Nasiriyah on Friday. Their rivals were demonstrating in the northern capital Mosul, AFP correspondents reported.

On Wednesday, as part of his call for new elections, Sadr asked the judiciary to dissolve parliament by the end of next week.

To further his campaign, Sadr urged his supporters to petition the courts en masse.

Stewards distributed printed forms outside Parliament on Friday, on which protesters only had to add their name and signature.

The Framework originally said they were conditionally open to new elections.

Asked what he would do if the courts rejected the petitions, 32-year-old engineer Ahmed al-Ibrahimi said: “Revolution is a drawn-out struggle. Hitting the retreat is not in our vocabulary.

“We will continue our sit-in and uphold our call for the ousting of this corrupt political junta.”

Also on the streets on Friday were dozens of supporters of an anti-government protest movement that erupted in late 2019.

“Both camps are part of a corrupt system that runs the country,” said Ali Jaber, a 50-year-old communist activist, referring to the rival Shia blocs.

“Getting rid of them is the first step to fulfilling the dreams of the Iraqi people,” he said in a Baghdad square.

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#Rival #sitins #deepen #political #deadlock #Iraq

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