Iraqi’s Heed Call of Shiite Cleric and Demand Government Reform

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On Tuesday, April 26, 2016, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is attempting to reorganize his cabinet amongst civil unrest and political turmoil throughout Baghdad. Thousands of Iraqi’s have heeded the call for a new government by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a former militia leader who led a rebel force that engaged with U.S. forces during the Iraq occupation.

Iraqi instability continues to plague the country, which is already suffering from numerous crises including fighting the Islamic State (IS) and fixing a fledgling economy. Abadi has tried to replace ministers to appease the public, but has been plagued for over a month by a parliament in chaos, as arguments take place constantly and scuffles routinely occur before voting can begin. Political patronage has led to massive corruption throughout the Iraqi government, depleting it of needed resources.

More than 100 members of parliament (MP) launched a sit-in in parliament to express their frustrations at those blocking a vote on the cabinet reshuffle. The protest was designed to “frighten” MPs from their main political parties, who rely on patronage to obtain funds and “compel” them to comply with the prime ministers reforms.

The political tension was on full display yesterday with a successful bid to voted out house speaker Dr. Salim al-Jubouri during an earlier session. Jubouri’s attempt to chair the session was met with vocal protests. Al-Jubouri’s supporters claim illegal methods were used to oust him. Jubouri. Abadi who had been at the hearing to propose his cabinet reshuffle left during the chaos amid water bottles being thrown at him by opposition.

A former Iraqi MP and national security advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie admitted the political system is “not working” and that “radical change” was necessary.

Supporters of al-Sadr marched toward the Green Zone where the government chanting, “all politicians are thieves” and are demanding government reform. Al-Sadr who heads the “Sadrist Movement”, which is a Shia Islamic movement, with the ideology of creating a nation ruled by religious law and tribal customs. Al-Sadir has called on al-Abadi to remove ministers whose political positions are affiliated with technocrats.

Al-Sadr did not publically resurface until this past February but his message of failed reforms under al-Abadi and government corruption reverberated with the people especially the working class and low-income families.

Al-Sadr wields significant influence as a number of his followers hold a bloc of seats within parliament, and are believed to be orchestrating the government collapse. Al-Sadr has long headed one of the most powerful Shiite militias in Iraq, the Mahdi Army, now renamed the “Peace Brigades”. Sadr’s militia is reportedly supplying 20,000 members to back the Iraqi government against the Islamic State (IS).

Al-Abadi is fighting battles on two fronts, one with his own parliament members and the other with the public. With al-Sadr back in the picture it will only make al-Abadi’s job all the more difficult as calls for his resignation are beginning to resonate.


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