Free Press Journal

Iraqi forces shut down Baghdad amid political crisis


Baghdad: Apprehending possible clashes during fresh protests, Iraqi security forces on Sunday blocked major roads and bridges across Baghdad to prevent followers of prominent Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr from reaching the Green Zone they stormed a week earlier.

Thousands of protestors stormed the heavily fortified government district in central Baghdad on April 30 shortly after Sadr delivered a televised speech from the holy Shia city of Najaf, in which he rejected the latest approval of partial cabinet members presented by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

The protestors on Friday took control of the parliament building and surrounding areas, while dozens of lawmakers, officials and employees tried to escape the government district.

The demonstration is aimed at pressuring Abadi to replace those party-affiliated ministers with independent technocrats.

“Any minister in the Iraqi government is not our candidate and represents only his government,” Sadr said, confirming that he and his followers “will not participate in any political process that includes quota system”.

Sadr referred to the political system created following the US-led invasion in 2003, according to which Iraq’s resources and control would be divided among the political parties representing its ethnic and sectarian factions.

The protestors started to withdraw from the Green Zone on May 1 after Iraq’s top leaders called on them to leave the government buildings.

“I call on the demonstrators to withdraw and protest peacefully, and not to encroach upon the public and private properties, which are the property of all Iraqis,” Haider al-Abadi said in a statement.

Meanwhile, President Fuad Masoum urged the protestors “not to harm the lawmakers and employees, not to touch the public and private properties, and to evacuate the (parliament) building”.

“We also call on prime minister, speaker and leaders of parliament blocs to come up with the desired reshuffle and implement the reforms to fight corruption,” Masoum said.

A statement issued by a committee of Sadr aides, responsible for organising the protest, announced the evacuation.

It also warned that if the government and the parliament fail to meet their demand, there would be a call for early elections, while the people would take all lawful means, like entering the headquarters of the three presidencies (president, prime minister and speaker) and announcing civil disobedience and public strike.

The protest has raised concerns in the region as Iran said on Monday it would help all the political factions solve their differences through dialogue.

Observers said it threatens to deepen the division among the political factions as the country was fighting the Islamic State militant group which has seized swathes of territories in northern and western regions.

“The power-sharing system was seen as a compromise to the deeply divided Iraqi sectarian and ethnic factions,” said Ibrahim al-Ameri, a lecturer of politics in a Baghdad college.

However, it has also been criticised for prompting unqualified candidates and encouraging corruption.

“Abadi’s most difficult task is that none of those political parties and blocs is willing to lose its gains. Abadi cannot confront those parties, let alone, his own Islamic Dawa Party,” he said.

Najib al-Jubouri, an expert on politics based in Baghdad, said the Iraqi people, in particular Sadr’s followers, were outraged after the legislators failed three times to vote on Abadi’s candidates that were aimed at replacing a cabinet with independent technocrats.

“The parliament and the political parties have no choice but to vote for a comprehensive reshuffle, and then to start again with new rules in the political process. Otherwise, chaos will destroy the political process,” he added.