Protests in rival Iraq highlight power struggle among Shiites

BAGHDAD (AP) — Supporters of an Iran-backed Shiite group rallied in Baghdad on Friday to denounce their rivals, followers of an influential Shiite cleric who last week broke into parliament in June and has been sitting in a sit-in outside the Iraqi parliament building since then. capital.

The rivalry between the two sides shows deep divisions within Iraq’s Shiite community, which makes up about 60 percent of Iraq’s more than 40 million people. Unlike Iran-backed groups, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr wants better relations with Arab states, including Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main rival for Shiites in the region.

Sadr also sharply criticized widespread corruption in the oil-rich country, ravaged by decades of violence, with crumbling infrastructure and a vast majority of people poor and lacking basic services.

At Friday’s rally, protesters from the Iran-backed coalition of political parties “Coordination Framework” did not try to enter Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to Iraq’s parliament, government buildings and foreign embassies, and followers of Sadr Camp out. Before they could gather, the authorities had blocked the road to the green zone with huge concrete blocks.

The counter-protest came after Sadr issued a deadline to the judiciary on Wednesday, giving it a week to dissolve the legislature. Sadr’s camp won a majority of votes in parliamentary elections last October but failed to form a majority government, abandoning those attempts after an eight-month stalemate and a battle with rival Iran-backed Shiite factions .

Members of Sadr’s parliamentary bloc resigned, but without letting his rivals — the Coordination Framework — try to form a government, Sadr called for the dissolution of parliament and early elections. It is unclear whether he has any legal basis for the demands.

The power struggle between the Shiites has left Iraq in a political quandary and exacerbated the economic crisis. The standoff, now in its tenth month, is the longest in the country since the 2003 US-led invasion reset the political order.

“We are protesting against the occupation of parliament and those who threaten the judiciary,” said Abbas Salem, a college student who was part of a Friday rally by Iran-backed groups.

Salem holds up a poster of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi Shiite supreme militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis during a January 2020 U.S. drone killed in the attack. He said he feared that if Sadr formed a government, he would disband the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella made up of mainly Iran-backed Shiite militias.

Another protester, 52-year-old Ahmed al-Maliki, said they opposed the “occupation of parliament” by al-Sadr’s followers, adding that Iraq needed a new government as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, al-Sadr’s supporters held their own rallies in Baghdad and most of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated provinces — except for the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala — and for weeks outdoors Five prayers to show strength.

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