“It was clear that the street could become inflamed at any moment,” Ali Bashar, a political activist, told Al-Ahram Weekly. “Not satisfied with ignoring us, the political class has insisted on not listening to the Sadrist Movement either, despite it winning first place in the most recent elections, with 73 seats in parliament.”
Today it is the Muharram Revolution, the name coined by Muqtada Al-Sadr, the cleric who leads the Sadrist Movement, that is shaping events in Iraq. Al-Sadr himself ordered the movement’s 73 MPs to resign.
Al-Sadr’s supporters stormed the Iraqi parliament building in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone on 26 July, rejecting the nomination of Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani as the country’s new prime minister by the Coordinating Framework (CF) bloc in parliament. They left only after Al-Sadr tweeted to say their message had been received.
Yet despite Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Al-Halbousi saying sessions had been suspended until further notice, the CF, which includes all Iraq’s Shia political parties except for the Sadrist Movement, continued with the nomination of Al-Sudani. In response, the Sadrists and their supporters stormed the Green Zone for a second time and resumed their sit-in.
On Monday, as the sit-in continued, demonstrations organised by the CF’s Organising Committee to Support Legitimacy took to the streets to protest “recent developments signalling the planning of a coup, threatening the state, cancelling its legitimacy, and insulting its constitutional institutions and the democratic process,” according to statements on the Dawa Party-affiliated Afaq TV channel.
“We fear a Shia-Shia confrontation,” says political activist Mohamed Aziz. “We see the Sadrists’ demands as legitimate but the CF sees them as an attempted coup.”
Among the most important demands are amendments to the constitution, the trial of corrupt politicians and officials, and the holding of early elections.
As Monday drew to a close amid calls from various parties to begin a dialogue, the two sides remained calm. CF protesters withdrew, and the Sadrists continued their sit-in.
“The protesters in the sit-in are not only Sadrists. There are representatives of many other forces that reject the situation in Iraq,” says political analyst Abdel-Amir Al-Majar.
“The Sadrists’ demands are the demands of the people. There are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who are angry because successive governments have done nothing for them.”
“While the CF may try to escalate the situation, it looks to have lost the initiative. The protest movement continues to grow.”
“Early elections are a must,” professor of political science Jinsn Ali told the Weekly.
“The Supreme Judicial Authority must dissolve parliament because it has violated the constitution by exceeding the period specified to elect a president of the republic. The current parliament has lost its legitimacy.”
Ali Al-Faili, a Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) member, had warned that the Sadrists’ resignation from parliament was a “poisonous gift” of which the CF should be careful. Yet the CF went ahead and accepted alternative MPs and nominated a controversial new prime minister.
A pro-Sadrist journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Weekly that “Al-Sudani is a decent man, but he has accepted to be a go-between for former prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki and Al-Sadr” though the two are bitter rivals.
Many political figures, including CF leaders such as Hadi Al-Amiri, head of the Al-Fath Alliance, have called for dialogue, but according to Al-Majar “dialogue cannot succeed unless the root problem is solved, and that problem is the loss of trust between political parties, and between those parties and the people.”
Al-Majar summarised the problem between the Sadrists and the CF by saying that “Sayyid Muqtada Al-Sadr is after a strong Iraq that refuses to allow regional countries to interfere in its political decisions,” leaving unspoken the overt backing CF parties receive from Iran.
Caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi warned in an official statement on Monday against Iraqis “being lured into accusations of treason, hostility, and hatred between brothers in the same homeland.” He called on all parties “to sit at the table of national dialogue in order to reach a political solution to the current crisis.”
Ammar Al-Hakim, the head of the Al-Hikma Movement, and Haider Al-Abadi, the head of the Al-Nasr Coalition, announced their support for Al-Kadhimi’s call.
Parliament Speaker Mohamed Al-Halbousi also tweeted his support for “the initiative of the prime minister to find a solution to events taking place in the country” and stressed “the importance of everyone sitting at the dialogue table and taking practical steps leading to parliamentary and local elections, with a fixed timetable, to resolve the current crisis.”
As the Weekly went to press, Sadrist protesters were continuing their sit-in inside the Iraqi parliament building. The Iraqi News Agency quoted the director of Al-Sadr’s office as saying that the movement’s supporters had been directed to withdraw from the main chamber of parliament but to continue their sit-in inside and outside the rest of the building.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.