Iraqi clerics show power as thousands attend mass prayer

BAGHDAD – Tens of thousands of Iraqis attended a mass prayer on the outskirts of Baghdad on Friday called by an influential Shiite cleric, raising fears of unrest amid a growing political crisis. seriously entailed the national elections of the country.

Moqtada al-Sadr followers arrive in the capital from across the country, filling up Sadr City’s al-Falah Road – the main road that cuts through the bastion of key supporters of the populist figures. Worshipers carry the Iraqi flag and wear white shrouds, often worn by his supporters.

The event was seen as a show of force from the cleric’s party that won the highest number of seats in national elections in October but withdrew after failing to form a government with Sunni allies. and the Kurds in Iraq’s difficult power-sharing system.

Onlookers stood in the scorching sun and chanted religious slogans. Al-Sadr’s representative, Sheikh Mahmoud al-Jiyashi, read aloud the cleric’s speech during his service, repeating calls for the disbanding of armed groups – an indirect reference to Iraqi militia groups. Iran-backed alliance with his opponents.

Ahmad Kadhim, 17, is among the devotees. He said he was disappointed that al-Sadr did not appear at the ceremony. “I would have been happy to meet him, but this wish did not come true,” he said.

By capitalizing on fears that mass prayers could turn into protests, al-Sadr sent a powerful message of his authority and strength. The event was one of the largest gatherings of al-Sadr followers after the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. But more importantly, it carried a message to key opponents al-Sadr’s ability to mobilize the streets of Iraq and destabilize the nation.

In a tweet on Thursday before the vigil, al-Sadr said the choice of protest was up to his followers.

“I support them if they want to stand up for reform,” he wrote. Many see it as a veiled threat to his opponents.

Al-Sadr, who won the most seats in October’s national elections, withdrew from forming a government last month, after eight months of stalemate. On his orders, members of his parliamentary bloc resigned.

Al-Sadr has sought to form a government with Sunni and Kurdish allies, excluding Iran-backed parties led by his longtime rival, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The unexpected move shocked his opponents and supporters, raising fears of unrest and street protests if al-Maliki carried out his plan to form a government. Excluding al-Sadr.

If the political crisis drags on until August, it will be the longest time Iraq has been without a government since the election.

Intimidating mass protests is a well-established tactic by al-Sadr that has proven successful in the past. In 2016, al-Sadr supporters repeatedly attacked the Green Zone, a fortified area that includes government buildings and foreign embassies of Iraq, even storming the parliament complex. and attack officials.

The prayer service is also a tribute to al-Sadr’s father, cleric Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, from whom he derives much of his support base. Elder al-Sadr held Friday prayers to challenge Saddam’s regime in the 1990s. He was assassinated in 1999.

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