Iraq set for a new wave of pro-reform protests by supporters of Shia cleric

Published February 9th, 2017 - 09:31 GMT
 "Iraqis demand change to the electoral commission", protester holds up a sign during Wednesday's protest (Sabah Arar/AFP)
"Iraqis demand change to the electoral commission", protester holds up a sign during Wednesday's protest (Sabah Arar/AFP)

Supporters of Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have once again taken to the streets of Baghdad, this time calling for electoral reform in anticipation of provincial elections next September.

The demonstrations, which saw hundreds gathering on Wednesday, are the latest in al-Sadr’s campaign for reform to a political system he and his followers see as favoring only Iraq’s major parties.

Among their demands is an overhauling of the Independent High Electoral Commission they claim is biased towards what they describe as the corrupt ruling parties. This commission, al-Sadr’s supporters argue, has caused damage to the nation and compounded its crises.

Some have shared pictures of the latest protests online.

Today in Freedom Square in Baghdad, protests.

From the peaceful protests in Baghdad today, demanding reform that serves the Iraqi people. 

#Today we were at its door and #Saturday we will enter. Saturday is your date, Baghdad. #Million-man demonstrations inshallah. Next to the Green Zone. Yes, yes, Iraq... We will crush the buildings of the pagans and the hypocrites.

While Wednesday’s numbers were on a smaller scale to last year’s demonstrations, it is likely that this most recent protest is a sign of a new wave of public discontent. Following yesterday’s gathering, a massive social media push has encouraged al-Sadr’s followers from across the country to converge on the capital next Saturday.

Breaking, the committee has indicated protests on Saturday for people from all across the provinces in Baghdad.

Iraqis, next Satuday is you date for million-man demonstrations in Baghdad, to be attended by people from all of the provinces... Next Saturday morning... meet at Liberation Square... There can be no retreat until we fulfil the demands of the people.

2/11/2017 million-man protests in Baghdad (photo reads: My country is not for sale)

There is no reason to doubt that the coming march will galvanize massive public support. Al-Sadr enjoys considerable public favor, mostly among Iraq’s Shia majority, and on previous occasions hundreds of thousands have come out in his support. Demonstrations last spring saw protesters break into Baghdad’s secure Green Zone, home to government institutions and foreign embassies, and wreak havoc in the nation’s parliament.

The pro-reform campaign had been temporarily suspended since the launch of the ongoing operation to liberate Mosul from Daesh in October. However, last month’s announcement of the upcoming provincial elections once again brought questions of electoral reform to the fore.

The demonstrations’ organizing committee has described the coming protests as a first step which may be escalated, should their demands not be met, local media have reported. It seems, then, that regular weekend protests in the Iraqi capital may once again be on the menu.


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