Iraq political gridlock heats up anger on the streets

Iraq political gridlock heats up anger on the streets
Supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr took to the streets and urged prime minister follow through on promised government reforms.
2 min read
17 April, 2016
The crisis escalated this week when parliament couldn't approve the new cabinet lineup. [Getty]
Supporters of popular Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr reportedly attacked four ministries on Saturday following anger over stalled government reforms.

The Sadrist protesters held sit-ins at the gates of Baghdad's Green Zone and have demanded that the ministers of foreign affairs, education, justice, construction and housing all resign, the Kurdish news channel Rudaw reported.

With reforms stalled in parliament, angry protesters gathered in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, passing heavily guarded ministries.

Protestors demanded that Prime Minister Haider Abadi deliver on a year-long promise to end corruption among politicians, and said that no one knows where the revenues of the oil-rich state were going.

Sadr, who was in Beirut on Thursday to discuss the political crisis, had threatened the government that his supporters would storm the Green Zone if reform measures were not passed.

On Saturday he issued a statement in support of lawmakers, saying that Iraqi ministers should resign.

He gave a 72-hour ultimatum to Abadi to form a technocratic government, adding that the prime minister resolve the current political problems and reshuffle his government within 45 days.

After lawmakers failed to oust speaker Selim al-Jabouri due to lack of quorum, backroom negotiations between Iraq's powerful political blocs went late into Saturday.

Although Sadr is a leading Shia cleric and has been linked to militias accused of killing Sunnis, he has avoided sectarian rhetoric and worked on a more populist programme.

With his ability to draw large Shia crowds onto Baghdad's streets, Sadr pressured the prime minister to move forward with a cabinet reshuffle earlier this month. This was met with instant opposition from Iraq's political blocs, which rely on the patronage systems to remain in power.

The crisis escalated this week when parliament failed to approve the new cabinet line-up.

Arabic newspapers have reported that former Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki was behind the move to oust Jabouri.

Maliki who is angered at attempts by Abadi to sideline him in power is thought to be using all means to get back at the prime minister.

Iraq has seen weekly demonstrations since August protesting against the lack of basic services and financial and administrative corruption rampant in government ministries.

Oil revenues account for 95 per cent of Iraq's revenues, the plunge in prices along with the costs of the war against IS have caused an economic crisis, adding fresh urgency to calls for reform.