Iraq: anti-Iran protesters take to the streets of Baghdad

Days after clashes between supporters of election winner Moqtada Al Sadr and pro-Iran militias, anti-corruption protesters staged a rally

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Iraq's pro-reform protest movement made a comeback on Friday as hundreds of peaceful protesters took to the streets of Baghdad demanding an end to corruption and Iran's influence in the country.

"Iraq will not be ruled by Iran," chanted the demonstrators as they headed towards the capital's fortified Green Zone, home to diplomatic quarters and government buildings.

They were seen carrying signs with anti-Iran slogans as well as pictures of protesters and journalists who were shot during the mass 2019 protests. They called for an overhaul of the government and the dissolution of the current parliament.

The country held early elections on October 10 in response to one of the core demands of a nationwide, pro-reform protest movement that erupted in 2019 in central and southern parts of the country.

The protesters' demands are similar to supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, who stage a sit-in outside parliament for weeks before withdrawing last Tuesday.

At least 30 people were killed — mostly followers of Mr Al Sadr — in violence in Baghdad this week.

Clashes erupted in the capital's heavily fortified Green Zone on Monday, after Mr Al Sadr announced that he was quitting politics. He had been frustrated in attempts to form a government, after elections last October.

His followers clashed with security forces in the zone that houses government buildings and foreign embassies, while Iran-backed militias aligned to Shiite political rivals were also present.

Violence also erupted in other parts of the country.

Mr Al Sadr later told his followers to disperse.

It came as the UN Security Council said political factions must engage in “constructive dialogue” to avoid a repetition of deadly clashes this week between rival Shiite factions.

“The members of the Security Council strongly urged all parties and actors to engage, without further delay, in a peaceful and constructive dialogue to advance reforms and chart a constructive way forward,” said the council.

Its members called for calm and restraint following the violence that gripped the country and brought fears of a potential outbreak of a civil war.

“They urge all parties to peacefully resolve their political differences, to respect the rule of law, the right of peaceful assembly, and Iraqi institutions, and to avoid violence,” the council said.

It expressed “deep concern” over the reported deaths and injuries in recent days.

This plea came as four militia men were killed in the southern city of Basra on Thursday, in clashes between rival armed groups.

The men were from arch foes, the Saraya Al Salam militia, which is linked to Mr Al Sadr, and the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl Al Haq militia.

AAH is led by Qais Al Khazali, who is part of the Iran-backed Co-ordination Framework political bloc — Mr Al Sadr's Shiite rival.

A funeral was held in Basra late on Thursday for Saraya Al Salam's fighters.

Saraya Al Salam and AAH have been engaged in revenge attacks for years.

The clashes in Baghdad on Monday led to the recent flare-up in the south, which saw Saraya Al Salam attack AAH offices in Basra.

In response, AAH attacked Saraya Al Salam, resulting in a battle that lasted several hours through the night.

Further violence is expected in Iraq, as the political rivalry between Mr Al Sadr and the Co-ordination Framework has yet to be settled.

The two sides have been in disagreement over forming a government.

Mr Al Sadr had been demanding the dissolution of parliament and new elections.

His party received the most seats of any party or group in the October poll, but was stymied in efforts to form a coalition government.

The Framework want a new head of government to be appointed before any new elections are held.

Updated: September 02, 2022, 4:29 PM
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