Iraqis mass in Baghdad for another Friday of protests

Iraqis mass in Baghdad for another Friday of protests
Tens of thousands of Iraqis packed centre Baghdad again, as religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr delivered a populist speech calling for free utilities and a change in government.
2 min read
11 March, 2016
Police blocked off main arteries in the Iraqi capital [AFP]

A sea of Iraqi flags filled the streets of Baghdad on Friday, as anti-government protesters continue their campaign to force Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to make changes to his government.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis packed the centre of the capital, as populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr delivered a rousing speech calling for a cabinet reshuffle.

The number of protesters was however considerably down from last Friday, when hundreds of thousands attended a rally.

Then people gathered outside the Green Zone after Sadr warned the government that the protesters would storm the fortified district unless the cabinet was replaced with technocrats, leading to increased security.

Roads around Baghdad were closed, while police blocked entrances to the Shia-majority Sadr City district  forcing protesters to march to the rally in Tahrir Square by foot.

Sadr has distanced himself from ministers linked to his Sadrist Movement, following complaints of rampant corruption by MPs in government.

Meanwhile the country has been plagued with sectarianism, partly institutionalised by political parties and their backers.

On 9 March, Abadi said on Twitter that he was about to announce a cabinet reshuffle.

Abadi has tried to pass reforms but has largely been blocked by government, and it seems the protesters’ patience is growing thin with the prime minister.

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

Sadr demanded land and free electricity for poor Iraqis, while calling for top officials' salaries to be cut in half. Such populist demands has won him popular support among working-class Iraqis, who have rallied behind his call to bring down the government.

A member of the Sadrist parliamentary bloc told The New Arab that the demonstrations, were in response to a call by Sadr for peaceful protests to pressure the Abadi government into carrying out significant changes. However, the source who wished to remain unnamed also said that he cannot see these demontrations continuing with no end in sight.