Iraqi security forces prevent protesters from entering the federal courthouse. Supporters of the influential Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr have stormed the government palace in Baghdad. Photo: Hadi Mizban/AP/dpa
This was reported by eyewitnesses on Monday. The 48-year-old clergyman had previously announced his retirement from politics.
The office of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kasimi is located in the building in what is actually a highly secured Green Zone. This further intensifies the political crisis in Iraq after demonstrators broke into the parliament building a month ago. Ten months after the parliamentary elections, the parties are still unable to agree on a president or a head of government, while the country is groaning under an economic crisis, inflation and corruption.
For the second time since 2014, al-Sadr has announced his retirement from politics. “I had decided not to get involved in political affairs, but now I am announcing my final retirement and the closure of all facilities,” he tweeted on Monday. Religious institutions directly associated with him are excluded. “If I die or am killed, I ask for your prayers.”
Less than two hours after the announcement, demonstrators poured into the Green Zone. Some carried photos of al-Sadr. “This is a people’s revolution, not a Sadrist movement,” some shouted. Others called for the “overthrow of the regime”. The protesters removed barriers while security forces tried to disperse the crowd with water cannons. Videos soon showed a cheering crowd in the government palace rooms. The military imposed a curfew.
Iraq has been in a deep political crisis for months. After the parliamentary elections around ten months ago, this had become increasingly difficult. Al-Sadr’s movement emerged as the clear victor at the time, but failed to secure the important two-thirds majority required for the presidential election. A new government can only be formed with the support of the head of state. This created a political stalemate.
Al-Sadr has thus given up his attempt to reform the political system in Iraq with the help of parliament for the time being. After the fall of long-term dictator Saddam Hussein, the USA introduced a system of proportional representation, according to which the president is always a Kurd, the prime minister a Shiite and the speaker of the parliament a Sunni. In addition, al-Sadr wanted to curb the influence of Shiite parties supported by Iran.
With “pressure from the street” and a storming of parliament, the al-Sadr movement finally wanted to prevent its political opponents around former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who have close ties to Iran, from being able to form a government. Most recently, the 48-year-old religious leader had called for new elections. His rivals, meanwhile, have put forward their own prime ministerial candidate, which al-Sadr opposes because of his closeness to al-Maliki.
Muqtada al-Sadr comes from a family of prominent clerics. After the US army invaded Iraq in 2003, he founded a militia, the “Mahdi Army”. Al-Sadr meanwhile lived in Iran.