Iraq political deadlock persists after bloody unrest

1. Iraq Calm Restored
A picture shows a street in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on August 31, 2022, as calm returns after around 24 hours of deadly violence in Iraq. (Photo: AFP)

BAGHDAD — A months-long political crisis in Iraq showed little sign of abating Wednesday despite a fresh push for negotiations after nearly 24 hours of deadly violence between rival Shiite factions ended.اضافة اعلان

Baghdad’s Green Zone, home to government buildings and embassies, returned to normality after 30 people were killed and 570 wounded in clashes pitting supporters of powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr against pro-Iran factions.

Since elections in October 2021, political deadlock has left Iraq without a new government, prime minister, or president, due to disagreement over the formation of a coalition.

The tensions escalated sharply on Monday when Sadr loyalists stormed the government palace following their leader’s announcement that he was quitting politics.

But Sadr’s supporters trickled out of the Green Zone in a steady stream on Tuesday afternoon when he appealed for them to withdraw within the hour.

A nationwide curfew was lifted, before shops reopened and infamous traffic jams returned to Baghdad’s streets on Wednesday as the government announced the resumption of school exams postponed by the unrest.

But the hurdles obstructing a solution to Iraq’s political crisis remained firmly in place, with rival powers disagreeing over a path forwards.

Early elections, less than a year after the last polls, and the dissolution of parliament have been a key demand of Sadr.

Sadr’s rivals in the pro-Iran Coordination Framework want a new head of government to be appointed before any new elections are held.

Snap polls

On Wednesday, a senior aide of Sadr, Saleh Mohammad Al-Iraqi, lashed out at the Framework in a strongly worded statement that pointed to a widening schism.

“Iran should reign in its Iraqi camels, or else there will be little room left for regret,” he said Wednesday, referring to the Framework.

Under the constitution, parliament can only be dissolved by a majority vote, which can take place at the request of a third of lawmakers, or by the prime minster in agreement with the president.

President Barham Saleh said late Tuesday that snap elections could provide “an exit from the stifling crisis”.

The Framework, meanwhile, called for the swift formation of a new government, “to prevent a recurrence of the strife” that paralyzed Baghdad this week.

It urged parliament and other state institutions to “return to exercising their constitutional functions and carry out their duties towards citizens”.

Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, meanwhile, threatened to resign unless the paralysis ends.

“If they want to continue to stir up chaos, conflict, discord, and rivalry ... I will take the moral and patriotic step and vacate my post,” he said.

Parliament Speaker Mohammed Halbusi on Wednesday declared three days of mourning for those killed in the clashes and Iraq’s National Security Adviser Qassem Al-Araji convened a security meeting to look into the circumstances behind the unrest.

‘More protests’

“Unless a proper solution is reached, more protests and violence are pos-sible,” said Iraqi political analyst Sajad Jiyad.

Falah Al-Barzanji, a 63-year-old activist, said he believed the calm would be short-lived.

“Today life has returned to normal, but the fire is still burning under the ashes,” he told AFP.

“The Iraqi parliament must be dissolved and a reformist government must be installed.”

Pope Francis, who visited Iraq last year, said he was “following with concern the violent events that have taken place in Baghdad” and urged dialogue.

Sadr — a longtime player on the war-torn country’s political scene, though he himself has never directly been in government — announced he was quitting politics two days after he said “all parties” including his own should give up government positions to help overcome the deadlock.

Sadr’s bloc emerged from the October election as the biggest in the legislature, with 73 seats, but short of a majority.

Since then Iraq has been paralyzed due to disagreement between Shiite factions over forming a coalition.

In June, Sadr’s lawmakers quit in a bid to break the logjam, which led to the Coordination Framework becoming the largest bloc.

Sadr’s supporters had for weeks been staging a sit-in outside Iraq’s parliament, after storming the legislature’s interior on July 30, demanding fresh elections be held.

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