Thousands of Iraqis loyal to firebrand Shia cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr took to the streets in the capital Baghdad yesterday to demonstrate against the Iraqi High Electoral Commission, demanding its dissolution and the prevention of the return to power of former premier Nouri Al-Maliki.
“The electoral commission in its current form is unviable,” protester Murad Al-Yaseri told Turkish state-owned Anadolu Agency.
“It is beholden to political parties,” he added. “It is incapable of overseeing impartial elections.”
Protesters gathered outside the capital’s heavily fortified Green Zone, demanding the establishment of a new electoral commission “untainted by political affiliations”.
Security forces, meanwhile, closed the main entrance of the Green Zone – home to numerous government buildings and foreign diplomatic missions – while riot police were deployed along adjacent roads.
The protesters raised slogans of “Yes to Iraq” and “We want to change the Electoral Commission and electoral law”. Apart from that, Al Jazeera also cited demonstrators as saying that they wished to “cut off the road [to power] against former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki.”
Although Al-Maliki is a Shia politician criticised for his sectarianism, he is backed by Iran to a greater degree than Al-Sadr, leading to no love lost between the two. During his premiership, and with the help of the United States’ occupation forces, he also cracked down on Al-Sadr’s men in Basra in 2008, leading to hundreds of Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia to be killed.
Al-Sadr has warned that he and his supporters would take “escalatory measures” if their demand was not met. Last year, they stormed the Iraqi parliament and vandalised it.
Iraqi legislative elections are slated for April of next year.
For the past year, Al-Sadr’s supporters have staged numerous protests in Baghdad in an effort to pressure Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to appoint a government of “technocrats” that they say will ensure that Baghdad would be untainted by corruption or sectarian affiliations.
In mid-2015, parliament approved a sweeping raft of reforms ostensibly aimed at meeting popular demands to eliminate government corruption and streamline state bureaucracy, but these reforms were either not adopted or were blocked by political wrangling and disagreement.