Iraq’s Al Sadr meets UN envoy as supporters gather in Baghdad in show of strength

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said discussions involved 'finding a solution' to growing political crisis

Followers of Shiite cleric and political leader Moqtada Al Sadr gather for mass prayers inside Baghdad's Green Zone. AP
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Iraqi Shiite cleric and political leader Moqtada Al Sadr met UN special representative to Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert on Friday, amid an escalating political crisis in the country.

This came as hundreds of thousands of Mr Al Sadr's supporters gathered in Baghdad for Friday prayers in a show of strength.

“It was a great honour to speak with him again in person, and to discuss the importance of finding solutions to the many challenges facing Iraq,” Ms Hennis-Plasschaert said, after meeting Mr Al Sadr at his home in the city of Najaf, in central Iraq.

On Wednesday, Mr Al Sadr had instructed his followers to carry on with their protest sit-in at Iraq's Parliament, in Baghdad's Green Zone, the heavily fortified central area that houses government buildings and foreign embassies.

Mr Al Sadr also called for new elections, the dissolution of Parliament and amendments to the constitution.

Iraq's political processes have been in deadlock since a general election last October, with parties unable to agree on forming a new government.

The Sadrists had the largest bloc in Parliament until it resigned en masse in June, on the orders of Mr Al Sadr, who said he would not take part in a corrupt political process.

Hundreds of thousands of supporters from across Iraq reportedly heeded Mr Al Sadr's call to gather in the capital on Friday, as temperatures reached 48°C, for a mass prayer.

Free haircuts outside Iraq's Parliament where hundreds continue their sit-in

Free haircuts outside Iraq's Parliament where hundreds continue their sit-in

Followers congregated at Victory Arch, a monument erected during Saddam Hussein’s regime to commemorate the Iran-Iraq war.

Farid Jaafar, 16, arrived from the central province of Babylon to show his support for Mr Al Sadr. His transport was paid by Mr Al Sadr’s party. “I love Moqtada,” he said.

Holding the prayer within the Green Zone, which is closed off to most Iraqis, indicates Mr Al Sadr's power and influence.

Last Saturday, thousands of his followers stormed parliament in a bid to derail attempts by Shiite rivals to form a government. About 100 protesters and 25 members of the security forces were injured in clashes.

Mr Al Sadr’s followers occupied Parliament for four days, until he ordered them to withdraw from the building, but maintain a sit-in nearby.

Some Shiite rivals in the Iran-backed Coordination Framework have said they would consider holding new elections in the event of a national consensus.

Updated: August 05, 2022, 3:04 PM