Baghdad, AFP, 21 March 2016 - A string of mass protests culminating in an ongoing sit-in at the gates of Baghdad’s Green Zone have thrust the Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr back on to center stage.
“This is your time to root out corruption and the corrupt,” he said in a clear reference to former Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki earlier this month in a call to his supporters to march on the fortified Green Zone and set up protest camps.
Thousands of them defied a government ban on Friday to heed their leader’s call and set up tents at the main entrances of the vast restricted area in central Baghdad which houses key state institutions as well as foreign embassies.
Sadr says the goal of the protests is the formation of a cabinet of technocrats to replace party-affiliated politicians he says have perpetuated a system based on nepotism and patronage.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi himself made the proposal but he is being undermined by parties -- including his own -- whose barons are reluctant to relinquish their positions and attendant privileges.
The sit-in and the huge security deployment around it have paralyzed central Baghdad and Sadr has given an ultimatum expiring in a week to present names for a new cabinet.
“Sadr started this thing and will not go silent now, he wants to go all the way,” said Issam al-Faily, professor of political science at Baghdad’s Mustansiriya University.