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Monday, May 23, 2016

Protesters break through Green Zone wall again in Baghdad

Iraqi security forces have opened fire on protesters who have broken into the heavily-fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. The thousands of protesters were angry at the government's inability to approve corruption reforms.

Many of the protesters were followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, who has been spearheading attempts to force the Iraqi government to approve a cabinet of technocrats and jettison the system of dividing jobs and positions among different parties and sectarian groups. Sadr did not specifically call for the demonstrations. There were other groups as well, equally angry with the situation. The security forces used not only tear gas but apparently live fire with dozens of people reportedly injured and one death that has not been confirmed as yet. The protesters were able to enter at least one government building. The Zone houses the Iraqi parliament, government buildings, and many foreign embassies, including the giant U.S. embassy. The protesters withdrew from the Zone to Tahrir square but according to witnesses an Interior Ministry Force and unidentified gunmen opened fire there. The Zone had been stormed earlier at the end of April. The protesters had entered parliament and other government buildings.
State television claimed the Baghdad Operations Command had imposed a curfew on Baghdad "until further notice" and warned that: "Riot police are dealing with anyone trying to damage state institutions in accordance with the law." Added to anger about corruption is anger about the lack of security in Baghdad as the capital has been the scene of many fatal suicide and other attacks by the Islamic State that are taking many lives as well as resulting in many wounded. This month already attacks have killed more than 150 people.
The protests have been ongoing since February when PM Haider al-Abadi tried to appoint a cabinet of independent technocrats as al-Sadr wants in order to do away with the present system of political patronage, but Sadr claims that many political groups are blocking Al-Abadi in order to protect their vested interest.
An article in the Middle East Eye says that Iraq has sunk to depths previously thought possible even though confronting the serious threat of the Islamic State:".. Iraqi politicians, with their corruption, nepotism, patronage networks and Mafia-like ways, still seem to think that politicking and jockeying over who has what ministry so that they may further their own economic interests is more important than attending to the crisis afflicting the country that they were installed – I mean “elected” – to serve. One is then left to wonder just how overblown the IS threat has become."
However the author, Tallha Abdulrazaq, a researcher at the University of Exeter's Strategy & Security Institute, has nothing but criticism for Sadr whom he accuses of some of the worst sectarian atrocities in Iraq and calls his Mahdi Army a terrorist organization. The Army fought often against the U.S. occupation forces when they were still present in Iraq. The author claims al-Sadr was until recently bent on destroying the Sunni population: The sad thing is that, in the past few months, terrorist leaders responsible for death squads that committed some of the worst sectarian atrocities in Iraq are now being painted as heroes of democracy and Iraqi social plurality. Of course, here we are discussing Moqtada al-Sadr, scion of the Sadr family of Shia clerics, leader of the Mahdi Army terrorist organisation and of their now rebranded Peace Brigades.
I have always understood al-Sadr as a nationalist who wants to ensure that Sunnis can be part of the federal government to ensure Iraq is not divided. But Abdulrazaq claims that al-Sadr is simply trying to gain more power. Although Abdulrazaq admits the corruption in Iraq he says nothing specifically about the plan to have a cabinet of technocrats. It is not clear how such a plan increases al-Sadr's power and as Abdularzaq notes some of al-Sadr's colleagues are criticizing him, surely because it would hurt their own power. While others may be using the crisis to help force the few remaining token Sunni's from power, this hardly seems to be al-Sadr's aim. The whole article seems slanted very much against Iran and is pro-Sunni. He blames much on the Americans:If the international community is serious about solving the Syrian crisis, they need to atone for the original sin that is Iraq, and how it was handed over to sectarian fanatics covered in the shroud of a false democracy.He does not say exactly how the international community can atone for its sins but obviously it is not by having a cabinet of technocrats as al-Sadr suggests, I presume.
While it is true that al-Sadr has sometimes opposed Sunnis, that is only part of the picture:On 25 April 2007 al-Sadr condemned the construction of Azamiyah wall around a Sunni neighbourhood in Baghdad, by calling for demonstrations against the plan as a sign of "the evil will" of American "occupiers" On 25 May 2007 al-Sadr delivered a sermon to an estimated 6,000 followers in Kufa. Sadr reiterated his condemnation of the United States' occupation of Iraq and demanded the withdrawal of foreign forces, al-Sadr's speech also contained calls for unity between Sunni and Shi'a.[31] In June 2007, al-Sadr vowed to go ahead with a planned march to the devastated Askariyya shrine in central Iraq, al-Sadr said the march was aimed at bringing Shi'is and Sunnis closer together and breaking down the barriers imposed by the Americans and Sunni religious extremists.These actions show that al-Sadr was trying to break down barriers between Sunni and Shia not taking advantage of them for his own purposes.


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