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Iraqi Shiite Cleric Urges More to Join Parliament Takeover

·2 min read

(Bloomberg) -- The influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr called on his supporters, including tribal leaders and paramilitary forces, to join thousands of others who are now occupying the nation’s parliament to prevent the formation of a new government.

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“This is a great chance for radical change to the political system,” he tweeted on Sunday, the day after thousands of supporters stormed the nation’s seat of power, injuring more than 100 people. “Don’t miss your chance.”

The protests have not spread to Iraq’s oil fields or affected its output. The country is OPEC’s biggest producer after Saudi Arabia, pumping about 4.4 million barrels a day of crude.

The weekend’s turmoil intensified the political standoff in Iraq, which has pitted Sadr against other Shiite groups in a power struggle. It presents a fresh test to a deeply fragile nation, which endured years of American occupation, attack by extremist Sunni forces and other sectarian violence.

Groups of supporters breached the parliament earlier last week. But the much larger mobilization on Saturday came as parliament was set to nominate a new prime minister -- now on indefinite hold as Sadr’s supporters settle into the area known as the Green Zone for the foreseeable future.

Dangerous Matter

His group is demanding the dissolving of parliament, fresh elections and changes to the constitution.

The grouping of Shiite parties opposed to Sadr called his actions “a dangerous matter,” in a statement on Sunday. The group, Coordination Framework Alliance, also urged their own supporters to stage protests outside of the Green Zone on Monday -- a prospect that raised worries of violence.

“We see a continuous escalation and unfortunate development of events, reaching the point of calling for a coup,” the group said in its statement.

Sadr, who organized a militia against American forces in the early days of the Iraq war almost 20 years ago, won national elections in October 2021, but his attempt to form a government with Sunni and Kurdish allies was thwarted by rival Shiite groups.

Later he withdrew his 73 representatives from parliament, saying that his rivals were corrupt and tied to Iran.

The Green Zone, the former headquarters for US forces and administrators, now houses the Iraqi parliament, governmental offices and diplomatic missions.

(Updates with details on oil in third paragraph.)

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