Iraq's president says early elections can resolve political tension and end crisis

Violence in Baghdad's Green Zone has killed at least 30 people

Followers of Iraqi cleric Moqtada Al Sadr withdraw from the streets near the Green Zone in Baghdad after violent clashes. Reuters
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Iraq's President Barham Salih said on Tuesday that early elections could resolve political tension and are a way out of the crisis, after violence in Baghdad's Green Zone left at least 30 people dead and hundreds more injured.

"Holding new, early elections in accordance with a national consensus represents an exit from the stifling crisis," Mr Saleh said in a televised speech.

"The recent elections have not achieved what Iraqi citizens were hoping for, and have faced a lot of challenges and problems,” he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, followers of powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr left Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone after he called for their withdrawal.

After several deadly clashes, Mr Al Sadr, who has millions of supporters across the country, gave his followers 60 minutes to leave the area or he would “distance” himself from them.

In his speech, Mr Salih praised Mr Al Sadr's efforts to end the violence.

“The stance of Sayyed Moqtada Al Sadr was responsible and brave,” he said.

“The end of violence and clashes was essential to prevent the shedding of Iraqi blood, but it does not mean that the political crisis has come to an end,” he added.

He called on all political powers to put aside their differences in the interest of the country.

The Iraqi president, whose role is largely ceremonial, added that the current situation will only lead to further corruption, which threatens the state and hinders chances for progress.

“We have to admit that the political system and constitutional institutions have failed to avoid what happened, and we are in need of serious reforms to address weakness points,” Mr Salih added.

“There is a need to carry out constitutional amendments, which should kick off in the coming period.”

Iraq's constitution says that after an election, MPs must convene to select a new president, who then confirms the largest bloc in parliament. A prime minister is then chosen to form a government.

Mr Al Sadr was the main winner in the elections held last October but he failed to form a government with Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties, excluding the Iran-backed Shiite groups.

These groups, which make up a rival coalition called the Co-ordination Framework, have mounted a series of legal challenges and boycotts against the government formation process.

Their actions, which Mr Al Sadr likened to a coup d'etat, caused an escalation of tension in Iraq. Violence erupted after Mr Al Sadr said he was withdrawing from all political activity — a decision he said was prompted by the failure of other Shiite leaders and parties to reform a corrupt and decaying governing system.

Updated: August 30, 2022, 6:53 PM