Iraqi prime minister braces for further turmoil

Sunday 08/05/2016
Iraqi supporters of Sadrist movement demonstrating for reforms

UTICA (Michigan) - A ngry Iraqi protesters stormed Baghdad’s for­tified Green Zonebriefly occupying the area before leaving the restricted sec­tion that houses the parliament and other government buildings.
The message was clear: Protest­ers are capable of delivering on their threats to advance into or possibly take over the seat of Iraq’s govern­ment by infiltrating police lines into the heavily guarded zone anytime they wish.
By the same token, the bold move deepened Iraq’s disarray and swelled a list of Iraqi worries, which include:
— The fate of a shaky cabinet re­shuffle promised to pump in a new group of technocrats to improve living conditions in the violence-wracked country;
— The sectarian strife between the majority Shia and the Sunni minor­ity, which exhausted both, threat­ens to divide the country into three smaller states;
— Influential religious parties squabbling with each other and re­fusing to let go of their sway, fearing they will lose the power they enjoy;
— A weak and hesitant govern­ment plan to reclaim areas captured by the Islamic State (ISIS), stifling the war against the militants;
— The precarious economy with a high deficit blamed on declining oil prices, overspending and mas­sive corruption, which squandered much-needed oil revenues.
All this put the position of the prime minister, who is widely seen as always reluctant, at stake.
In late April, jubilant crowds, most of the people supporters of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, broke into the parliament session hall, forcing lawmakers to flee. The pro­testers shouted anti-corruption slo­gans and demanded immediate po­litical reforms.
Security forces responsible for protecting the Green Zone did noth­ing to stop the protesters, who se­verely beat at least two lawmakers.
At nightfall, demonstrators set up tents at a nearby parade ground and shouted anti-Iran slogans, an unprecedented move against the neighbouring country, which has had a huge influence on war-bat­tered Iraq since 2003.
The next morning, the crowds left the sprawling compound on orders from al-Sadr. The protesters threat­ened the government with “tougher actions in the future” if the reforms are not carried out as soon as pos­sible.
Police and army units in Baghdad were put on high alert as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a statement saying that the situation in Baghdad had been brought under control.
Abadi warned, however, that the political crisis could negatively af­fect the war against ISIS.
Almost all main Shia political groups, fearing the loss of their priv­ileges and al-Sadr’s rising influence, denounced the storming of the Green Zone, while pro-Iranian Shia militias deployed fighters in and around Baghdad in a show of force.
The brief invasion of the Green Zone showed the increasingly frag­ile situation of the embattled Abadi, who failed to order security forces to defend the Green Zone.
Some senior politicians were quick in criticising Abadi’s inaction regarding the protesters.
Parlia­ment Speaker Salim al-Jabouri said the prime minister “bears full re­sponsibility for any security breach or aggression against the govern­ment institutions and the dignity of the state”.
Senior Sunni politician Saleh al- Mutlaq said Abadi’s “futile” policies have created more rifts among the people.
“The political approaches of the prime minister… led the country to a dead end and this would lead to the total collapse of the nation,” said Mutlaq, who demanded that Abadi step down immediately.
The storming of the Green Zone was the latest setback for Abadi, who has been unable to live up to his repeated promises for political reforms, starting with a long-await­ed cabinet reshuffle.
In April, Abadi presented inde­pendent candidates to replace cor­rupt ministers affiliated with pow­erful religious parties, including al-Sadr’s. However, he ended up bowing to pressure from political leaders and was eventually forced to pick candidates from the same parties linked to corruption and power abuse.
This brought him public wrath.
Baghdad resident Saif Hilal called on Abadi to carry out the reforms or “go home”.
“With a weak prime minister, or­dinary Iraqis fear that the political struggle will move to the streets where each group would resort to their supporters and militias in or­der to settle political scores,” he said.
Sunni lawmaker Talal al-Zobaie called for dissolving parliament and forming an emergency government.
“No lawmaker should enter the parliament after what happened,” he said.
“People are waiting for action, not useless promises. Till now, the prime minister is offering more pro­crastination, but no solution to the crises.”
Izzat al-Shahbandar, a former senior member in Abadi’s Dawa Par­ty, said Shia political leaders should “go and stay home” and give al-Sadr the task to form a new Iraqi govern­ment.
“Al-Sadr is the only leader who can mobilise the public and make his supporters take to the Iraqi streets. Nobody can stop him,” he said.