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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Tense Calm in Baghdad After Anti-government Protests

by Sharon Behn May 02, 2016

There was a tense calm Monday in Baghdad. Protesters who stormed into the International Zone on Saturday largely toned down their demonstration and drifted out to celebrate a Shi'ite religious festival commemorating 8th century Imam Moussa al-Khadhim.

Protest leader Moqtada al-Sadr vowed he would return to the area, home of the nation's parliament and various foreign embassies and international organizations, this Friday to pressure the government to change or call snap elections.

Most of the country's lawmakers fled the area over the weekend when Sadr's followers charged into parliament, demanding a new government.

It is not clear if and when they intend to return. Lawmaker Serwan Sereni told VOA that an emergency meeting between Iraqi President Fuad Masum, Prime Minister Haider al Abadi and militia leaders failed to reach agreement on a way forward.

The leader of the Sadr bloc in parliament Dhiaa al-Assadi confirmed to VOA that political meetings held Monday between the president and the prime minister and different political parties about a solution to the current problem had not produced any solutions. But he brushed off any suggestion that the political crisis was affecting the fight against Islamic state.

"There are so many brigades and divisions fighting against Islamic State, including Sadr brigades, still in their positions, and other militias under control of other parties also fighting," Assadi said. "We can differentiate between the political process in Baghdad and the fight against Daesh (Islamic State)."

Cronies versus technocrats

Sadr, a powerful Shi'ite nationalist cleric who made his name by fighting U.S. forces in Iraq, has a strong following in the country, capitalizing on deep public frustration with government corruption, political patronage and inefficiency.

The protest was the first to seriously breach the International Zone security cordon, yet was bloodless, which "suggests that the security forces in the targeted area were sympathetic, or were ordered to stand down; likely both are true," notes the Soufan Group, which provides security and risk management analyses.

Even if there was no serious violence, Sereni, a member of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Iraq's parliament, said considerable damage had been done to the political process.

"We are totally against what happened in Baghdad. We will not allow anyone to humiliate our members, or decide on our behalf. We have our rights in Baghdad," he told VOA. "Sadr's party only has 34 seats (in parliament) and they want to dictate... the new Cabinet."

Sadr has demanded that a government of technocrats replace the current leadership, but, entrenched political parties rejected Prime Minister Abadi's attempts to replace their ministers.

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