World: Iraq protesters occupying parliament say no plans to leave

Sri Lanka swears Dinesh Gunawardena in as new prime minister

  Sri Lanka swears Dinesh Gunawardena in as new prime minister Appointment of veteran politician comes after security forces clear anti-government protest site in Colombo.Gunawardena, a veteran member of the ruling Sri Lanka People’s Front and an ally of the Rajapaksa political family, took the oath of office on Friday before President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was elevated to head of state from his role as prime minister by a vote in parliament on Wednesday.

Supporters of powerful Iraqi leader Muqtada al-Sadr who have occupied the country’s parliament say they have no plans to leave, deepening a months-long political standoff.

On Saturday, supporters of the firebrand al-Sadr forced their way into the legislative chamber for the second time in days, after October elections failed to lead to the formation of a government.

“The demonstrators announce a sit-in until further notice,” al-Sadr’s movement said in a brief statement to journalists carried by state news agency INA.

According to the Ministry of Health, about 125 people were injured during Saturday’s protest – 100 protesters and 25 members of security forces.

Sri Lanka troops demolish main protest camp

  Sri Lanka troops demolish main protest camp Sri Lankan security forces demolished the main anti-government protest camp in the capital Friday, evicting activists in a pre-dawn assault that raised international concern for dissent under the crisis-wracked country's new pro-Western president. Troops and police Special Task Force commandos wielding batons and armed with automatic assault rifles charged on people blockading the sea-front Presidential Secretariat in Colombo. Hundreds ofTroops and police Special Task Force commandos wielding batons and armed with automatic assault rifles charged on people blockading the sea-front Presidential Secretariat in Colombo.

Parliament Speaker Mohammed Halbousi suspended future sessions until further notice.

In multi-confessional and multiethnic Iraq, government formation has involved complex negotiations since the 2003 invasion led by the United States toppled Saddam Hussein.

Supporters of al-Sadr, who once led a militia against US and Iraqi government forces, oppose a rival, pro-Iran Shia bloc’s pick for prime minister – Mohammed Shia al-Sudani.

The post conventionally goes to a figure from Iraq’s Shia majority.

“We don’t want Mr Sudani,” said one protester, Sattar al-Aliawi, 47.

The civil servant said he was protesting against “a corrupt and incapable government” and would “sleep here” in the gardens of parliament.

He added: “The people totally refuse the parties that have governed the country for 18 years.”

Pro-Sadr protesters storm parliament in Iraq's Green Zone

  Pro-Sadr protesters storm parliament in Iraq's Green Zone Supporters of powerful Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr on Wednesday stormed parliament after penetrating the capital's high-security government Green Zone, protesting against a rival bloc's nomination for prime minister. The protests are the latest challenge for oil-rich Iraq, which remains mired in a political and a socioeconomic crisis despite elevated global oil prices. Protesters "stormed the parliament" after initially being stopped by police firing a barrage of tear gas, a security source told AFP on condition of anonymity. State news agency INA said on messaging app Telegram that "protesters have entered the parliament building".

Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr raise his portraits inside the parliament [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP] © Provided by Al Jazeera Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr raise his portraits inside the parliament [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]

Longest political vacuum

Al-Sadr’s bloc emerged from elections in October as the biggest parliamentary faction, but was still far short of a majority. In June, al-Sadr’s 73 legislators quit their seats in a move seen as an attempt to pressure his rivals into fast-tracking the formation of a government.

Now, 10 months since the last elections, the political vacuum is shaping up to be the longest since 2003 when Hussein was removed and killed, resetting the country’s political order.

Al-Sadr’s rivals in the Coordination Framework – an alliance of Shia parties backed by Iran and led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – showed signs of internal divisions later on Saturday.

At first, the alliance called for “peaceful” counterprotests to defend the state, raising fears of possible street clashes and interethnic violence.

Tomorrow Movement climate protesters storm Parliament House and SING on the foyer steps

  Tomorrow Movement climate protesters storm Parliament House and SING on the foyer steps Dozens of young protesters from the Tomorrow Movement crammed on to the marble stairs early on Monday afternoon until police dragged them away. 'Whose side are you on?' they repeatedly belted out, appearing to ask politicians whether they represented the people or big business.'History will remember, which side are you on? Will you stand with us or the wealthy few?' they continued.

“Civil peace is a red line and all Iraqis must be prepared to defend it in all possible, peaceful, means,” the alliance said.

Later, Hadi al-Amiri, also an alliance leader, issued a statement inviting our “dear brother” al-Sadr to “a serious dialogue” to find a way out of the impasse. Al-Maliki also appeared to pivot and issued a statement saying the day’s tumultuous events had prompted him to call for dialogue with al-Sadr.

Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Baghdad, said Saturday’s parliamentary session had initially been dedicated to electing a new president, followed by the naming of a prime minister, who would then form a new government.

“All that is now on hold, giving rival politicians a chance to meet,” he said. “But these protesters are worried that MPs could hold an unannounced session to approve al-Sudani. So now they’re in for the long haul.”

Calls for restraint

Saturday’s demonstration came three days after crowds of al-Sadr supporters breached the Green Zone and entered the legislature on Wednesday. They left two hours later after al-Sadr told them to.

Hundreds of protesters breach Iraq's parliament for second time this week

  Hundreds of protesters breach Iraq's parliament for second time this week Hundreds of protesters have breached Iraq's parliament for a second time this week. © Associated Press Protestors gather on a bridge leading to the Green Zone area in Iraqi capital, Baghdad on Saturday, 30 June Pic: AP Followers of influential Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, are demonstrating against efforts by Iran-backed political groups to form the next government. Security forces deployed tear gas and sound bombs in a bid to prevent people from entering the parliament building in capital Baghdad.

The Coordination Framework called on “the popular masses … to peacefully demonstrate in defence of the state and its legitimacy”.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq said the “ongoing escalation” was deeply concerning.

Noting the protest injuries, a spokesperson for UN chief Antonio Guterres echoed that concern in a statement on Saturday, while calling on parties to “de-escalate the situation”.

“The Secretary-General urges all parties and actors to rise above their differences and form, through peaceful and inclusive dialogue, an effective national government … without further delay,” the statement said.

“Voices of reason and wisdom are critical to prevent further violence. All actors are encouraged to de-escalate in the interest of all Iraqis,” the statement added.

Supporters of al-Sadr protest against corruption inside the parliament building in Baghdad [Ahmed Saad/Reuters] © Provided by Al Jazeera Supporters of al-Sadr protest against corruption inside the parliament building in Baghdad [Ahmed Saad/Reuters]

In a speech, caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi called for restraint.

“The political blocs must sit down and negotiate and reach an understanding for the sake of Iraq and the Iraqis,” he said, and ordered security forces to protect demonstrators.

Hadi al-Ameri, who heads a faction of the Hashed al-Shaabi – pro-Iran former paramilitaries now integrated into the regular armed forces – made a similar appeal.

Intense negotiations between the factions over the past several months have failed to bridge the divide.

It is unclear to what extent the protesters’ occupation of parliament could derail efforts to muster enough support for al-Sudani’s bid for premiership. Al-Maliki had wanted the premier post himself, but audio recordings were leaked in which he purportedly cursed and criticised al-Sadr and even his own Shia allies, which effectively sank his candidacy.

According to Iraqi political analyst Akeel Abbas, al-Sadr’s supporters are waiting for a comprehensive deal from the government.

“I think we passed the stage of who’s going to be the next prime minister,” he told Al Jazeera. “Now Sadr is waiting for this candidate [al-Sudani] to withdraw from the race.”

“I don’t think the Coordination Framework will hold up for long if this protest continues,” he went on to say.

“I think some within the Framework are waiting for an excuse to either leave the Framework or kick al-Maliki out. Sadr is giving them the pretext one way or the other.”

Iraq’s al-Sadr demands dissolution of parliament, early elections .
Iraq’s Muqtada al-Sadr orders supporters to continue sit-in inside the national parliament, calls for new elections.The remarks, delivered by the Shia Muslim leader in a televised address from Najaf on Wednesday, could prolong a political deadlock that has kept Iraq without an elected government for nearly 10 months.

See also