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Explained: The Storming of Iraq's Parliament and the Country's Political Crisis

Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his supporters have opposed the nomination of Mohammed al-Sudani for prime minister.

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The Iraqi parliament on Wednesday, 27 July, saw hundreds of protesters storm the building. They were supporters of a cleric named Muqtada al-Sadr, whose political party, the Sadrist Movement, had emerged as the winner of the 2021 parliamentary elections.

Protesters could be seen dancing and singing in the high-security Green Zone.

"I am against the corrupt officials who are in power," said Mohamed Ali, as quoted by The Guardian.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi asked protesters to leave, warning that the state will ensure "the protection of state institutions and foreign missions, and prevent any harm to security and order."

That did not really work. But after Sadr himself asked his followers to go home after praying, the protests subsided. "Your message has been heard … you have terrorised the corrupt," he wrote on Twitter.

The protesters left, chanting "We obey the Sayyed (an honorific title for someone accepted as a descendant of Prophet Muhammad)."

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said in a statement that "the right to peaceful protest is essential to democracy. However, it goes hand in hand with respect for state institutions and the safeguarding of public and private property. It is imperative that protests remain peaceful and in compliance with the law."

What were the protesters rallying against? What is the political situation in Iraq at the moment?

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The Nomination of an Iran-Backed Candidate for PM

The country is enduring a political crisis for almost a year. After the October elections, Al-Sadr’s bloc, while the largest, was still far short of the majority needed to form the government.

The country's different political factions, however, have failed to create a new government due to intense ideological differences. Al-Sadr, too, has refused to work with his rivals.

His party is staunchly opposed to Iranian influence in Iraq's domestic politics. On the other hand, there are Shia political parties cum militias funded and supported by Iran that gained popularity and clout in Iraqi politics after it played a contributory role in the defeat of ISIS between 2014 and 2017.

The Coordination Framework, an all-Shiite body, formally nominated Mohammed al-Sudani the prime ministerial post earlier this week.

Al-Sadr and his supporters have opposed the nomination of the 52-year-old, who belongs to the Islamic Dawa Party. The party, founded more than fifty years ago, supported the Iranian revolution and the Ruhollah Khomeini, and even supported Iran during the Iran-Iraq war.

It continues to receive major funding from Iran. Naturally, Mohammed al-Sudani is considered to be too close to Iran, which is why his nomination provoked protests.

Al-Sudani's father and some other family members were killed by the Saddam Hussein regime in 1980 (when tensions with Iran were sky high) when he was just a young boy. The political murder was allegedly carried out because al-Sudani's father was an active member of the Islamic Dawa Party, according to Gulf News.

For him to win the post, al-Sudani would need 165 out of 329 votes in the parliament. That is going to be tough given that the biggest Sunni bloc, Al Taqqadum, is allied to the Sadrist Movement.

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More About the Sadrist Movement

The Sadrist Movement, led by Muqtada al-Sadr is an Islamic movement that enjoys popular support across Iraq's Shia population.

In the 2018 elections, the movement had finished as the single-largest party, winning 54 out of 329 seats and also the highest vote share.

The leader of the movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, is revered for fighting against the US armed forces that invaded Iraq in 2003.

Then in 2014, he led the Sarayat al Salam, a militia group that fought against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, reported the Associated Press.

His nationalist credentials and his public dedication to the Iraq's sovereignty has made him a legend for millions of Iraqis.

In a speech on Monday, 11 October, al-Sadr said that "it’s time for the people to live without occupation, wars, militias, terrorism, kidnappers and fear-mongering,” The Washington Post reported.

What also distinguishes Muqtada al-Sadr's movement from other Shia parties that contested the election is that it has consistently been opposed to Iranian influence in Iraqi governance.

Despite Iran being a Shia nation, al-Sadr has spoken out against Iran's policy of supporting Iraq's Shia militias with weapons and money.

(With inputs from Reuters, the BBC, Gulf News and The Guardian.)

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Topics:  Iraq 

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