Sadr supporters renew anti-corruption demos in Baghdad

By Haydar Hadi

BAGHDAD (AA) – Thousands of followers of prominent Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took to the streets of Iraqi capital Baghdad on Friday to protest widespread corruption and demand sweeping government reforms.

On Friday morning, thousands of protestors — many of them waving Iraqi flags — converged on Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to call for an end of perceived sectarian discrimination and demand that corrupt officials and former officials — including ex-President Nouri al-Maliki — be put on trial.

“Shias and Sunnis are brothers; we won’t sell our homeland!” protesters shouted in unison. “No to corruption; Yes to reform!”

Others chanted, “Baghdad is free; America out!”

At one point, al-Sadr himself addressed the demonstrators.

“The government must sack corrupt officials immediately,” he declared. “And they must be held to account for what they have done.”

He went on to urge the country’s judicial authorities to do away with political quotas based on sectarian affiliations.

“We’re united in our loyalty to the nation; the only flag you see here is the Iraqi flag,” Jaasim al-Hilf, a protester, told Anadolu Agency.

“The main problem we face is governance based on sectarian affiliations and political factionalism,” added al-Hilf, who is also the head of Iraq’s secular Civil Movement.

During Friday’s demonstration, security was stepped-up noticeably, with all roads leading to Tahrir Square being closed off to vehicular traffic.

Iraq has remained in the throes of a deepening political crisis since March, when Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi — under mounting pressure to rein in corruption — attempted to form a government of “technocrats” untainted by sectarian affiliations.

Until now, however, Iraq’s various political parties, including a number of Shia ones, have blocked the new government from being drawn up.

Al-Sadr’s supporters, meanwhile, have been staging protests over the past five months to demand that al-Abadi replace his cabinet with a team of independent “technocrats” mandated with fighting government graft.

In April, the firebrand cleric froze the activities of his Ahrar bloc (which holds 34 of parliament’s 328 seats), effectively thwarting a parliamentary vote on whether or not to sack the president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker.

*Anadolu Agency correspondent Ahmet Sait Akcay contributed to this report from Ankara