Iraq’s sectarian political system has failed: Chaldean Patriarch

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BAGHDAD: Tens of thousands attended mass prayers in Baghdad’s Green Zone on Friday in a new power play by Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr after his opponents conditionally backed his call for an election anticipated.
Sadr, a longtime political and religious force in the oil-rich but war-scarred country, has been locked in a political standoff for months with a rival Shiite alliance backed by Iran.
Worshipers converged on a large plaza inside the normally secure Green Zone, housing government and diplomatic buildings, including the parliament building which his supporters began to occupy on July 30.
“Yes, yes to reform! Sadr’s supporters sang during prayers.
“No, no to corruption.
After the prayers, hundreds of people returned to the area around the parliament building, where tents were still pitched and food served to protesters continuing their sit-in in the compound’s gardens.
Sadr’s mass prayer rally follows his demand for a snap election – a possibility the rival bloc says it is conditionally open to, although the last national polls were only held about 10 months ago.
Months of post-election negotiations between Sadr’s bloc – the largest in parliament – and other factions have failed to produce a new government, prime minister and president.
Political tensions arise as Iraq remains plagued by endemic corruption, crumbling infrastructure and unemployment.
As a result of agreements made, the Sadrists also have representatives at the highest levels of ministries and have been accused by opponents of being as corrupt as other political forces.
Sadr’s supporters, however, are ready to follow him almost blindly and see him as a champion in the fight against corruption.
Speaking from a dais, the imam who led the prayer endorsed Sadr’s call for early elections.
“Iraq is a prisoner of the corrupt,” said the imam, denouncing “the scandalous degradation of public services, health and education”.
Sheikh Ali Al-Atabi, 38, joined the crowd in support of Sadr. Calling people to Friday prayers is “part of his repertoire” when he “wants to use people for something”, Atabi explained.
A similar prayer call and pressure tactic by Sadr in mid-July drew hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshipers to Sadr City, a Baghdad neighborhood named after his murdered father.
Qassem Abu Mustafa, 40, described the latest rally as “a thorn” pricking “the enemy to demand legislative elections and reforms”.
Worshipers, mostly men but with a few women, used umbrellas to shield themselves from Baghdad’s 42 degrees Celsius (108 Fahrenheit) heat.
Some waved Iraqi flags and carried portraits of their leader.
“Whatever Mr. Sadr’s opinion, we are with him,” Abu Mustafa said.
Sadr’s bloc emerged from the October elections as the largest in parliament, but still far from having a majority.
In June, its 73 lawmakers resigned in a bid to break the deadlock. This led to a rival Shiite bloc, the Pro-Iran Coordination Framework, which became the largest in the legislature.
The Coordination Framework’s appointment of former minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani as prime minister has angered the Sadr bloc and sparked the occupation of parliament by its supporters.
With armed groups linked to the various political factions in Iraq, the United Nations has warned that tensions could worsen.
On Wednesday, Sadr called for the dissolution of parliament and new polls. The coordination framework said Thursday evening that it was open to the idea, signaling a possible de-escalation.
But “a national consensus on the issue and the creation of a safe environment” were prerequisites for such polls, he said.
The framework stressed the importance of “not disrupting the functioning” of constitutional institutions – a clear reference to the occupation of parliament by Sadr supporters.
The coordination framework includes lawmakers from the party of former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, a longtime enemy of Sadr, and Hashed Al-Shaabi, a former pro-Iranian paramilitary network now integrated into the security forces.
The outgoing Speaker of Parliament, Mohammed Al-Halbussi, a member of the minority Sunni community, expressed on Twitter his support for new elections.
He said it was “impossible to ignore the will of the masses”.


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