Sadr urges followers to join Iraq protests against corruption
BAGHDAD - Powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Monday urged his followers to hold anti-corruption protests in Baghdad this week, the first major political figure to issue such a call.
Sadr's spokesman Salah al-Obeidi read a statement calling for the Iraqi people, and specifically Sadr supporters, to rally in the capital on Friday, at the request of Sadr in "support of the reform process."
"We announce to all people and to the Sadrists in particular the need to participate in protests this Friday in Baghdad", Sadr said through a televised speech by Obeidi in the holy city of Najaf.
"The Sadrist participants should merge with the other protesters in a single, national Iraqi crucible."
He said protesters should unite behind demands for reforming the judiciary and sacking corrupt officials while avoiding personal demands or the display of sectarian banners and refraining from cursing or violating public morals.
Thousands of people have for weeks taken to the streets of Baghdad and Shiite cities in the south on Fridays to protest rampant corruption and abysmal services that plague Iraq.
They have railed against the poor quality of services, especially power outages that leave just a few hours of government-supplied electricity per day during the scorching summer heat.
Their demands were given a boost when top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on August 7 for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to take "drastic measures" against corruption.
Sistani, who is revered by millions, said that "minor steps" announced by Abadi had fallen short.
Abadi rolled out a reform programme two days later.
Parliament signed off on Abadi's proposals as well as additional reforms, and the prime minister has begun issuing orders for changes, including cutting 11 cabinet posts and slashing the number of guards for officials.
But even with popular support and backing from Sistani, the fact that parties across the political spectrum benefit from graft is a major obstacle to the nascent reform effort.