Saturday, March 12, 2016

Al Sadr lashes out at government during Baghdad demonstration demanding reforms

Iraqi cleric and political leader Moqtada al-Sadr held a protest rally of about 200,000 at the entrance to the Baghdad Green Zone. The protesters demanded better services and an end to corruption within the government.

Al-Sadr called for the overthrow of the "government of corruption" of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. After mass protests last summer Abadi promised political and economic reforms but was unable to carry them through due to legal challenges and resistance to any change. Just last month, Adadi vowed he would replace ministers who were appointed on the basis of political affiliation but has mostly been unable to do so.
Sadr said a chance should be given to independent people and those who have brought Iraq to the abyss should step aside. Sadr's own political bloc, Al-Ahrar, holds 34 seats in parliament and three cabinet posts. Al-Ahrar is the 2nd largest political bloc. His speech was broadcast on huge screens set up in the street. The entrance to the Green Zone was guarded by police behind razor wire. Sadr threatened to break into the Green Zone site of government buildings and the US embassy unless his reform demands are met.
Ahmed Younis, a political analyst based in Baghdad, said the failure to root out corruption together with economic pressures caused by low oil prices as well as the fight against the Islamic State had "pushed Abadi with the country to the edge of a cliff":"Everybody is watching Abadi drag his feet in carrying out real reforms.... Moqtada al-Sadr is now trying to take the imitative and be the winner in the reform race”.
The Friday protest follows an earlier one in late February that saw a turnout of about 100,000. Abadi blamed the lack of reforms on political blocs who prevented them. Muhanad al-Gharrawi, a Sadr aide who led the protests said:"Today we are here to call for major reform. We want a technocratic government that serves Iraq’s interests. We won’t accept a solution to be like morphine used only to tranquilize the anger of people."Abadi is already under fire from other factions. He may be forced to step down resulting in elections.
Moqtada al-Sadr is the son of a famous Shiite cleric who was murdered by Saddam Hussein. He is perhaps best-remembered for his opposition to the US-led occupation of Iraq. Once, al-Sadr said: "Saddam was the little serpent, but America is the big serpent." Al-Sadr has no position in the Iraqi government. In February 2014 he said he was withdrawing from politics altogether but he nevertheless appears to be now entering politics again. While during the Iraq war al-Sadr advocated violence, after the Americans left he advocated moderation, tolerance, and sought peace. He has been a strong nationalist and has even been critical of the anti-Sunni stance of some other Shia. He is in favor of one Iraq. Al-Sadr has strong support in the huge mostly Shiite slum area of Baghdad called Sadr City.

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