Iraqi cleric al-Sadr threatens continued occupation surrounding parliament

Supporters of the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr continue to occupy the area around the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad until their demands are met. Thats what al-Sadr said in a first public appearance since parliament was stormed last Saturday.

He gave a TV speech from his home base Najaf. One of the demands is that the parliament be dissolved and new elections be held.

Iraqi politics is in a deep crisis due to disagreements between different groups. Since Saddam Hussein was expelled in 2003, Shiites have been providing the Prime Minister, Kurds the President, and Sunnis the Speaker of Parliament. But after the elections in October last year, no agreement has yet been reached on who should fill those positions.

Extra-parliamentary opposition

al-Sadrs party became the largest in those elections, with 74 out of 329 seats. However, he withdrew his parliamentarians in June after failing to form a coalition with Kurdish and Sunni parties. Al-Sadr said at the time that he would oppose the formation of a government that he does not like.

Other Shiite parties, which, unlike al-Sadr, have good ties with Iran, then proposed a prime minister candidate. It is an ally of a rival of al-Sadr. In response to that nomination, supporters of al-Sadr stormed parliament twice, injuring more than a hundred.

Piece of cake

According to al-Sadr, talking to the coalition of rival Shiite parties is no longer possible. “Dialogue with them has yielded nothing but destruction and corruption, despite their promises and signatures.”

On Tuesday, al-Sadr called on his supporters to leave parliament. He does want them to stay in the so-called Green Zone: the highly secured area in Baghdad where many embassies and government buildings are located.

A counter-protest then started on the occupation of parliament. The UN fears that the political impasse will turn into large-scale violence. Dutch envoy Hennis said earlier that a small spark can “ignite” the situation: “Its a tough power struggle: who gets the biggest piece of the cake?”