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Home World News Washington Post World News Threat of protests, violent escalation sparks panic in Iraq

Threat of protests, violent escalation sparks panic in Iraq

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BAGHDAD – Iraqi security forces erected concrete barriers on Monday ahead of counter-protests planned by Shia political rivals against an influential cleric whose followers held a parliament sit-in for the third day.

Many feared that dueling protests could escalate tensions.

Calls for counter-protest came from a political alliance of Iran-backed groups opposing the open sit-in in Iraqi parliament by supporters of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The prospect of counter-demonstrations fueled fears of a deeper political crisis. The political atmosphere in Iraq has been in a vacuum since the federal elections in October.

The counter-protest was called by the Coordination Framework, an alliance led by Shia parties near Iran, and is expected to take place Monday afternoon. The alliance ordered participants to gather around the July 14 Bridge in Baghdad, which leads to the heavily fortified Green Zone where the parliament is housed.

The alliance banned participants from entering the zone and instructed them to “wait for instructions.” That was a signal to protesters not to clash with al-Sadr’s supporters, but opened the possibility of prolonged demonstrations in a deadlock against al-Sadr.

The alliance also called on its supporters to respect state security forces and to carry Iraqi flags. Security forces built concrete walls to act as a buffer and blocked the passage from the bridge to the Green Zone.

The announcement came after al-Sadr issued a statement late Sunday calling for “revolution” and changing the political system, constitution and abolishing his rivals, while encouraging Iraqi tribes to join him. His opponents saw that message as a call for a coup d’état.

There were rifts within the Framework’s leadership, with some members unwilling to participate and calling for restraint. Others urged escalation.

Al-Sadr’s main rival, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the head of the Framework alliance, and Shia leader Qais al-Khazali, appear to be sparking protests. Meanwhile, Fatah Alliance head Hadi al-Ameri is pushing for control and moderation, two Shia political officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with regulations.

Kataib Hezbollah, another Iran-backed militia group, has also suggested not to participate.

If protests escalate, al-Sadr and al-Maliki’s closest followers will clash since 2008, when the former prime minister led the Iraqi army to expel the cleric’s previous militia, the Mahdi army, from the south . city ​​of Basra.

The two men, both powerful in their own right, have been bitter enemies ever since.

Al-Sadr’s loyalists continue their sit-in for a third day. Thousands of them stormed parliament on Saturday, for the second time in a week. This time they did not spread peacefully.



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