UPDATE – Sadrists withdraw from Baghdad’s Green Zone


By Moayed al-Tarafi, Ali Jawad and Haydar Hadi

BAGHDAD (AA) – Supporters of firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr withdrew from Baghdad’s Green Zone Sunday after holding a sit-in for two straight days.

A protest leader, Ihlas al-Ubeydi, made a statement on behalf of all demonstrators to announce their conditional withdrawal.

“A technocrat government must be formed in a single parliamentary session. If not, the prime minister, president and parliament speaker will be discharged and then snap elections will be held,” al-Ubeydi warned.

He also said that if their demands were not met then, “We will storm into the offices of the prime minister, parliament speaker and the president and start a civil disobedience action or a general strike.”

For the second day in a row, thousands of supporters had held a sit-in inside the Green Zone after storming parliament a day earlier.

The Iraqi army had responded to the escalations by declaring a state of high alert across the capital and sealing the city’s exits and entrances.

The heavily-fortified Green Zone houses a number of vital government institutions — including parliament — and foreign diplomatic missions.

Members of the Shia Hashd al-Shaabi (“popular mobilization”) militia, meanwhile, had reportedly deployed in southern Baghdad to guard against possible attacks by the Daesh terrorist group.

In a Sunday statement, Iraqi Vice-President Osama al-Nujaifi, head of the Sunni Al-Muttahidoon political bloc (which holds 25 seats in Iraq’s 328-member parliament), blamed Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi for the Sadrists’ recent escalations in Baghdad.

Al-Nujaifi criticized the government’s failure thus far to carry out promised reforms and address longstanding public grievances, which, he said, were the main reason for the ongoing demonstrations.

He also urged al-Abadi to be more decisive regarding calls for a proposed cabinet reshuffle and to foster partnerships with a view to fighting terrorism and government corruption.

Earlier the same day, al-Abadi directed the country’s Interior Ministry to find and arrest those responsible for “attacking security forces, citizens and members of parliament” one day earlier — a clear reference to al-Sadr loyalists.

Meanwhile, the National Iraqi Alliance, Iraq’s largest Sunni coalition, condemned the protests, saying it was contrary to the country’s constitution and the laws.

In a written statement, the coalition said Sadrists who stormed the parliament building and attacked lawmakers must face justice.

On Saturday, al-Sadr supporters forced their way into the Green Zone where they occupied the parliament building for several hours before withdrawing.

The move came after a scheduled session of parliament — in which MPs were slated to vote on a new cabinet lineup proposed by al-Abadi — was postponed after lawmakers failed to meet the required quorum.

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

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

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

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