Iraqi cleric urges others to join protest as parliament sit-in digs in

Nearly 10 months after elections, the oil-rich country is still without a new government.
Hundreds camp at Iraqi parliament for second day (Photo: AFP).
Hundreds camp at Iraqi parliament for second day (Photo: AFP).

Powerful Iraqi Shiite preacher Moqtada Sadr Sunday urged other factions to support a protest that has seen his supporters occupy parliament in a dispute over who should name the next prime minister.

Nearly 10 months after elections, the oil-rich country is still without a new government due to the repeated failure of negotiations and the en-masse resignation last month of Sadr's bloc -- the largest in parliament.

The health ministry said at least 100 protesters and 25 security personnel were hurt in the confrontation.

Analysts have said Sadr, a mercurial cleric who once led a militia against US and Iraqi government forces, is using protests to signal that his views must be taken into account in establishing a new government.

He called on "everyone... to support the reformist revolutionaries".

- 'Got the worst' -

On Sunday morning, the demonstrators marked the Muslim month of Muharram, a traditional Shiite celebration, with religious chants and collective meals.

A statement issued by a Sadr loyalist on Sunday issued instructions to the protesters, urging them to keep the premises clean, organise unarmed security patrols and to keep the sit-in going by operating in shifts.

Sadr's bloc emerged from elections in October as the biggest parliamentary faction, but still far short of a majority.

That led to the pro-Iran bloc becoming the largest in parliament, but still there was no agreement on naming a new prime minister, president or cabinet.

They left on Sadr's orders last Wednesday after about two hours inside.

Despite oil wealth and elevated global crude prices, Iraq remains hobbled by corruption, unemployment and other woes, which sparked a youth-led protest movement in 2019.

But supporters of Sadr view him as a champion of the anti-corruption fight.

Sudani is the prime ministerial choice of the Coordination Framework alliance which includes lawmakers from the party of Sadr's longtime foe, ex-prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The Hashed -- along with tribes and the wider security forces -- were among elements Sadr urged to join his protest initiative on Sunday.

Iraqi Kurdish authorities in the country's north meanwhile offered to host talks in their capital Arbil.