Supporters of Iraq’s al-Sadr told to withdraw from parliament

Senior pro-Sadr loyalist told supporters to end parliament sit-in but called for protests to continue inside Green Zone.

Supporters of influential Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who have camped inside Iraqi’s parliament since Saturday, have been instructed to leave the building but to continue their protests outside the parliamentary offices.

In a tweet, Mohamed Saleh al-Iraqi, a senior pro-Sadr loyalist, told hundreds of supporters to leave the parliament building in the capital, Baghdad, within 72 hours and join fellow Sadrists at an “encampment in front of and around the building”.

“The pursuit of the sit-in is very significant because it will solidify your demands,” al-Iraqi said in the tweet on Tuesday, recommending that protesters take it in turns to remain at the protest site.

The call by al-Iraqi means the protesters will remain inside the Green Zone, which houses Iraq’s parliament, government buildings and foreign embassies.

He also announced that a large prayer rally would take place on Friday in the Green Zone.

The announcement caused confusion at the parliament building where some officials said the instructions were for protesters to leave the main chamber and a meeting room, but protesters could remain in the building’s large entrance hall.

Al-Sadr and his party were winners in Iraq’s October parliamentary elections but were unable to muster a majority of support to form a government. Al-Sadr’s bloc resigned in June ostensibly in a bid to unblock the political impasse, but the situation has only deteriorated since then.

The al-Sadr bloc’s resignation led to a pro-Iran bloc, the Coordination Framework, becoming the largest in parliament, but still, there was no agreement on naming a new prime minister, president or cabinet.

Al-Sadr’s followers stormed the parliament building on Saturday at his command to prevent the Coordination Framework alliance from voting in a new government after they named Mohammed al-Sudani as the candidate for prime minister.

Calls for a national dialogue

Now, nearly 10 months on from the elections, the oil-rich country still has no government and no new prime minister or president and the political standoff has deepened.

Tuesday’s call for supporters to withdraw from the parliament building is a de-escalation on al-Sadr’s part but far from a disbanding of the protests.

The call to withdraw also comes a day after his rivals in the Framework alliance staged a protest that many feared would lead to street battles between loyalists of the rival Shia factions.

The pro-Framework protesters withdrew on orders from Qais al-Khazali, a leading member of the alliance.

The Framework is a grouping that includes former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, a longstanding foe of al-Sadr, and the Hashd al-Shaabi, a former paramilitary network now integrated into the security forces.

Political analyst Ahmad Rushdi told Al Jazeera that al-Sadr’s call to protest at parliament had provoked the Coordination Framework to mount the counter protests. Those protests sent a signal to the Sadrists that the Framework was capable of going “to the edge”, Rushdi said.

“Eventually there will be negotiations,” Rushdi told Al Jazeera.

“It’s eventually a political game. It’s not really going forward for some sort of reform for the whole political process,” he said.

Outgoing prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi late on Monday called for a “national dialogue”, a proposal endorsed by the Sunni speaker of parliament Mohamed al-Halbousi and by Ammar al-Hakim, a senior Coordination Framework official.

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