assault on the presidential palace and curfew


TunisTwo decades after the invasion decreed by the then president of the United States, George Bush, and two years after the withdrawal of its last American troops, Iraq seems incapable of achieving stability. The cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the party with the most votes in last year’s elections, announced this Monday his withdrawal from politics after not being able to form a government after ten months of negotiations. In an outburst of anger, his followers stormed the presidential palace and the government palace, prompting the interim government to declare a curfew and deploy the army in anticipation of further violent clashes.

“I hereby announce my definitive withdrawal,” Al-Sadr tweeted through his Twitter account, adding that “all institutions” affiliated with his movement would also be dissolved, with the exception of his father’s mausoleum, a revered cleric killed by Saddam Hussein’s regime in 1999. The announcement by Al-Sadr, who has one of Iraq’s most powerful militias and a strong ability to mobilize among popular Shiite neighborhoods, is the latest blow of course in a long game that the Iraqi parties have been fighting since the elections of October last year to share power. Never before has the Arab country, with an always turbulent political scene, suffered such a long blockade.

The events of this Monday have set off all the alarms in the face of the possibility of a new cycle of violent confrontations. The United Nations mission in the Arab country has warned that the assault on the palaces represents an “extremely dangerous escalation”. The army, for its part, has published a statement in which it recalls its “responsibility to protect government institutions, international missions and public and private property”. Since the 2003 invasion, the country has suffered outbursts of political violence. The last were two years ago, when hundreds of demonstrators died in protests against corruption and the deterioration of public services.

Political blockade

Although Al-Sadr’s movement was the most voted in the polls, it has not been able to forge a majority in Parliament to grant him the position of prime minister. Its main adversary is a coalition of Shiite Islamist parties very close to Iran. Interestingly, Al-Sadr was an ally of these parties and actually led the insurgency against the US fifteen years ago thanks to Tehran’s support. However, in recent years Al-Sadr has distanced himself from the regime of the Ayatollahs and has been accentuating his Iraqi nationalism.

After years in which the main political tensions were between the country’s various ethnic groups, pitting mainly the Sunni minority against the Shia majority, the quarrels are now within the Shia bloc. The major shift in dynamics came after the defeat of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq in 2018, a Sunni fundamentalist group that considers Shiites heretics.

Frustrated by ten months of political deadlock in Parliament, last month Al-Sadr ordered his deputies to resign. The coup was intended to force new elections, but it ended up proving a miscalculation, as his opponents chose the prime minister from among their ranks. To prevent this, Al-Sadr immediately mobilized his followers, who occupied the Parliament. And they haven’t moved from there. Precisely, it is these followers who have stormed the presidential palace. The main Iraqi institutions are located in the so-called Green Zone, where the bulk of American troops and diplomats resided after the invasion.

This is not the first time that Al-Sadr has announced his withdrawal from politics in order to generate political conflict and then end up backtracking. Most Iraqi analysts believe that this time will be no different. Aware of the Shiite cleric’s popularity, security forces have so far dealt with supporters’ protests with leniency, but this time, with his latest blow, Al-Sadr may have crossed a red line.


Source: Ara.cat – Portada by www.ara.cat.

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