Supporters of powerful Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr - winner of the October 2021 elections - have stormed Iraq's parliament to protest against the Framework for Coordination's choice of Mohamed Shia al-Sudani as prime ministerial candidate. This coalition, led by Iranian-friendly political parties, has more seats in the House than the Sadrist bloc. The alliance includes MPs from former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki's party and the pro-Iranian Fatah movement.
The Coordination Framework met recently to discuss the formation of a new Iraqi government after several months of political stalemate and the withdrawal of the Sadrists from the political process. Mohamed Shia al-Sudani, former minister of labour and social affairs, was the leading contender to become prime minister 10 months after the elections.
Despite the protests and the assault on the parliament, the iraki coalition shows strenght to the Al-Sadr followers and believes it will form a government with Al-Sudani at the head of it, local medias says.
"I am against al-Sudani's candidacy because he is corrupt," one of the hundreds of protesters who stormed parliament after storming Baghdad's Green Zone, the capital's safest area that houses government buildings and embassies, told AFP.
They're trying to topple the concrete barriers to enter the Green Zone. PM Mustafa Al-Kadhimi who's on good terms with the Sadrists is reportedly still in Anbar, where he'd gone to inaugurate a power station. #Iraq pic.twitter.com/15j00cBkdO— Mohammad Ali Musawi (@malimusawi) July 27, 2022
Despite tear gas and water cannons, security forces were unable to contain the protesters, who even occupied the seats in the chamber and took pictures of themselves holding the national flag and portraits of Al-Sadr. Insults against Iran could also be heard inside the parliament. According to an Interior Ministry source quoted by EFE, there were no direct clashes between security forces and protesters and so far no injuries have been reported.
"Today we are at their place of work and tomorrow we will go to their homes," a supporter of Al-Sadr told the French channel France24. The Iraqi also explained that they were in parliament on the orders of their "dear leader Muqtada al-Sadr" and that they had a message for the "corrupt, the unjust and for Al-Sudani".
⚡️Protesters broke into the Iraq Parliament building and broke through the cordon in the guarded "Green Zone".— Flash (@Flash43191300) July 27, 2022
According to media reports, these are supporters of the cleric Muqtada Sadr.People smash everything in their path and clash with the police. pic.twitter.com/KbDanpnsj3
Iraq has been mired in political and social instability since the fall of former president Saddam Hussein in 2003. High unemployment and poverty - despite being an oil-rich country - as well as political corruption have led to strong social unrest. Proof of this were the protests that began in 2019 and, according to Human Rights Watch, cost hundreds of people their lives.
The so-called 'Tishreen Revolution' was very reminiscent of the Arab Spring that had swept through the countries of the region years earlier. Among the Iraqis' demands were the fight against corruption, the improvement of the economic situation and the need for reforms, both political and social.
In this context, Al-Sadr established himself as a strong leader and a reliable presidential candidate for Iraqis. The Shi'a cleric won support among Iraq's lower classes with his rhetoric against corruption and foreign influence, both from the US and Iran.
"We have voted. We have sacrificed for many years and we demand reforms and regime change," a citizen outside parliament told the French media. "We want an independent person who serves the people," another told AFP.
The current prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, urged the crowd to "withdraw immediately", assuring that security forces would ensure "the protection of state institutions and foreign missions and prevent any damage to security and order".
However, it took the order of their leader, al-Sadr, for the protesters to leave the House and the Green Zone. Almost two hours after storming the building, the Shia cleric called on his supporters via Twitter to "return safely to their homes". "Your message has been heard, you have terrorised the corrupt," he said, praising his followers. "Revolution of reform and rejection of injustice and corruption," he stressed.
As AFP reports, after these messages, Al-Sadr's supporters peacefully left the parliament chanting "we obey the Sayyed", a term in honour of the cleric who is recognised as a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. In addition to being a figure with great political clout, Al-Sadr is an important religious leader for some Iraqi Shiites.
As the crowd left the Green Zone, images began to circulate of Al-Maliki carrying a gun with several armed men. The leader of the State of Law Coalition sought to pressure Al-Kadhimi to take stronger action against the protest, which he described as "a blatant violation". "The government must fulfil its constitutional responsibilities and protect security to avoid bloodshed among Iraqis," he added. Al-Maliki also called on the protesters to withdraw "immediately" and not to allow themselves to be "dragged into confrontation".
This development aggravates the political crisis in Iraq and increases tensions between the different alliances. Since October 2021, the political formations have not reached an agreement to establish a new executive. "There is no government, so there is no budget, the streets are still full of potholes, electricity and water are scarce, and health care and education are poor," said a 68-year-old pensioner during the Green Zone raid, according to Reuters.
IRAQ: Protesters have stormed the parliament building in Baghdad over the nomination for Prime Minster.— Katie Daviscourt?? (@KatieDaviscourt) July 28, 2022
The world continues to Rebel.pic.twitter.com/oR2Cf7d0G8
The Sadrist withdrawal also complicated the political landscape and, according to Washington Institute expert Firas Elias, "makes it clear that Iraq is on the verge of a new political order centred on conflict between Shia forces". On the one hand, the Sadrists, and on the other, the traditional Shia forces (the Coordination Framework). "The early elections in October 2021 could be the last elections held under the current political system, especially since the system can no longer resolve its political crises internally," adds Elias.
In the event that a new administration is not agreed upon, Al-Kadhimi would remain as prime minister until elections are held again.