Iraqi PM orders arrest of Sadrist demonstrators

By Arif Yusuf, Ali Shekho and Ali Jawad

BAGHDAD (AA) – Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi on Sunday directed the country’s Interior Ministry to find and arrest parties responsible for “attacking security forces, citizens and members of parliament” in Baghdad’s Green Zone one day earlier.

On Saturday, supporters of prominent Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr forced their way into the heavily-fortified enclave, which houses Iraqi state institutions and foreign diplomatic missions, and occupied the parliament building for several hours.

Pro-Sadr demonstrators entered the Green Zone after a scheduled session of parliament — in which MPs were to vote on a new cabinet lineup proposed by al-Abadi — was postponed after lawmakers failed to meet the required quorum.

Smaller pro-Sadr protests were seen in Iraq’s southern provinces on Saturday, held in solidarity with the Green Zone demonstration.

The Iraqi army responded to the escalation in Baghdad by declaring a state of high alert across the capital and sealing all of the city’s exits and entrances.

Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jubouri, for his part, warned al-Sadr to “rein in” his supporters, going on to declare: “We will not hesitate to take the necessary steps… to save our country from chaos.”

He added: “Daesh terrorists are waiting for such security vulnerabilities; we should not allow it.”

In recent months, al-Sadr supporters have staged several mass demonstrations near the Green Zone with a view to pressing al-Abadi to appoint a government of “technocrats” untainted by corruption or sectarian affiliations.

The crisis escalated further last month when MPs refused to allow al-Jabouri to chair a scheduled parliamentary session after accusing him of failing to summon al-Abadi to answer corruption allegations.

Speaking at a press conference in the city of Najaf (some 160 kilometers south of Baghdad) on Saturday, al-Sadr reiterated his rejection of what he described as “a political system that fails to take the popular will into account”.

He also announced the suspension of the activities of his “Ahrar” parliamentary bloc, which holds 34 seats in the 328-seat assembly.

Corrupt officials, he went on to declare, “continue to hinder government reform. Cabinet ministers… do not represent us; they represent the government.”

Al-Sadr added: “There are enormous pressures on al-Abadi by certain sectarian forces. We want to get rid of them [i.e., sectarian forces] and leave the final word to the people.”

Al-Sadr supporters eventually withdrew from the parliament building on Saturday evening and began a sit-in protest in Baghdad’s nearby Celebration Square.

“We have begun an open-ended sit-in in the square, where we will remain until a technocratic government — free of political influences — is drawn up,” demonstrator Mohamed Abd al-Zahra told Anadolu Agency.

Iraq ranks 161st out of 168 countries on Transparency International’s “corruption perceptions index”.