Explained:Why Iraq is battered by political unrest after Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr’s resignation
At least 20 people were killed and over 300 injured in Iraq as the riot police fired gunshots and mortars to control the furious protestors
Iraq, which is rocked with political unrest for over ten months now, reported another deadly clash between the security officials and the loyal supporters of an influential Shiite cleric on Monday. According to multiple media reports, at least 20 people were killed and over 300 injured as the riot police fired gunshots and mortars to control the furious demonstrators.
The crowd pulled down the cement barriers outside the government palace and stormed the lavish spots in the country including a key meeting place for Iraqi heads of state and foreign dignitaries.
Though the country has been facing political turbulence since October last year, when Iraq concluded its Presidential elections that witnessed national parties failing to secure a majority, the situation took a dramatic grave turn on Monday when Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced quitting politics.
Following this, the furious protestors demanded the dissolution of the Parliament. By Monday evening, August 29, the military imposed a nationwide curfew, and the caretaker premier suspended Cabinet sessions in response to the violence.
Why is Iraq in unrest?
Iraq is a Muslim majority country with a population divided into two sects; Shiites and Sunnis. Saddam Hussein, an Iraqi politician who served as the fifth president of Iraq from 16 July 1979 until 9 April 2003– during his tenure oppressed the Shiites brutally, according to local media reports.
However, the situation turned in favour of Shiites when the United States invaded the country and reversed the political order. Earlier, it was believed that the fate of Shiites would become better after Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging. However, the sect’s condition became even grimmer as the Shiites started fighting among themselves for power.
Role of Muqtada Al-Sadr in clash in Iraq
The disagreements among Shiites paved the way for cleric al-Sadr to rise to dominance as he is considered an extremist leader and an advocate for Shiite rights. To encourage his political interests, al-Sadr wrapped his rhetoric with a nationalist and reform agenda that resonates powerfully among his broad grassroots base of supporters who hail from the country’s poorest sectors of society and have historically been shut out from the political system. In October 2021, the country held Parliamentary elections, with the incumbent government al-Sadr’s party in the fray.
Though al-Sadr’s party secured the largest share, he failed to secure the majority to form the government. He refused to negotiate with his Iran-backed Shiite rivals and his subsequent exit from the discussions catapulted the country into political uncertainty and volatility amid intensifying intra-Shiite wrangling.
This is not the first time when al-Sadr became the centre of violence in Iraq. For the last ten months, he has been constantly calling for early elections and the dissolution of Parliament. Many contested his latest move as a bluff to gain greater leverage against his rivals amid a worsening stalemate. The cleric has used the same tactic on previous occasions when political developments were not on his favour.