Supporters of Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr are pitching tents and preparing for a long sit-in against his rivals’ attempts to form a government.
Supporters of powerful Iraqi leader Muqtada al-Sadr have erected tents and are preparing for a long sit-in in the Iraqi parliament, deepening a months-long political stalemate.
On Saturday, supporters of instigator al-Sadr forced their way in the legislative chamber for the second time in a matter of days, after October elections failed to result in the formation of a government.
“The protesters are announcing a sit-in until further notice,” al-Sadr’s movement said in a brief statement to reporters carried by state news agency INA.
Almost 10 months after the October elections, Iraq still does not have a new government despite intense negotiations between the factions.
Government formation in the oil-rich country has involved complex negotiations since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Supporters of al-Sadr, who once led a militia against US and Iraqi government forces, oppose the choice of a rival, the pro-Iran Shiite bloc, for the post of prime minister – Mohammed Shia al-Sudani .
The position traditionally goes to a personality from the Iraqi Shiite majority.
“We don’t want Mr. Sudani,” said one protester, Sattar al-Aliawi, a 47-year-old civil servant.
He said he was protesting “a corrupt and incapable government” and would “sleep here” in the gardens of parliament. “The people totally reject the parties that have ruled the country for 18 years,” he said.
On Sunday morning, protesters marked the Muslim month of Muharram with religious songs and communal meals.
“We hoped for the best but we had the worst. The politicians currently in parliament have brought us nothing,” said Abdelwahab al-Jaafari, 45.
Volunteers distributed soup, boiled eggs, bread and water to protesters.
Some spent the night inside parliament with blankets spread out on the marble floor. Others have settled in the gardens, on plastic mats under the palm trees.
The block of Al-Sadr comes from elections in october as the largest parliamentary faction, but was still far from having a majority, causing the country’s longest political vacuum since 2003.
In June, al-Sadr’s 73 lawmakers left their seats in a move seen as an attempt to pressure his rivals to speed up the formation of a government.
This led to a pro-Iran bloc emerging as the largest in parliament, but there was still no agreement on the appointment of a new prime minister, president or cabinet.
Saturday’s protest came three days after crowds of al-Sadr supporters broke through the Green Zone and entered the legislature on Wednesday.
The standoff marks Iraq’s biggest crisis in years. In 2017, Iraqi forces, with a US-led coalition and Iranian military support, defeated the ISIL (ISIS) group which had taken control of a third of Iraq.
Two years later, Iraqis suffering from a lack of jobs and services took to the streets to demand an end to corruption, new elections and the withdrawal of all parties – especially the powerful Shiite groups – which have ruled the country since 2003.
Al-Sadr continues to ride the wave of popular opposition to his Iran-backed rivals, claiming they are corrupt and serve the interests of Tehran, not Baghdad.