Thousands of followers of the radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada Sadr stormed into Iraq’s parliament on Saturday, for the second time this week, protesting government formation efforts led by his rivals, an alliance of Iran-backed groups.
Muqtada al-Sadr is the fourth son of a famous Iraqi Shi’a cleric, the late Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr. He is also the son-in-law of Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr.
The alliance showed signs of internal division, with some calling for counter-protests — a development that would raise the specter of civil strife — while others later urged for dialogue.
The development showed al-Sadr was using his large grassroots following as a pressure tactic against his rivals after his party was not able to form a government despite having won the largest number of seats in the federal elections held last October.
With neither side appearing willing to concede, and al-Sadr intent on derailing government formation efforts lead by his rivals, Iraq’s limbo and political paralysis have ushered in a new era of instability in the beleaguered country.
Al-Sadr’s rivals in the Coordination Framework — an alliance of Shiite parties backed by Iran and led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — showed signs of internal divisions later on Saturday.
At first, the alliance called for “peaceful” counter-protests to defend the state, raising fears of possible street clashes and inter-ethnic violence.
The United Nations expressed its concern about further instability and called on Iraqi leaders to de-escalate. “Voices of reason and wisdom are critical to prevent further violence. All actors are encouraged to de-escalate in the interest of all Iraqis,” the U.N. said.
In a speech, caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi called for restraint. “The political blocs must sit down and negotiate and reach an understanding for the sake of Iraq and the Iraqis,” he said and ordered security forces to protect demonstrators.
Throughout the day, al-Sadr supporters — many had come not just from Baghdad but other provinces as well in order to stage the sit-in — continued to throng the parliament building, raising the Iraqi flag and portraits of al-Sadr. They chanted against the intrusion of foreign states, a veiled reference to Iran.
It was the second time in four days that the cleric ordered his followers to take their cause inside the Green Zone. On Wednesday, after protesters stormed the parliament in a similar fashion, they left shortly after getting inside, at al-Sadr’s command.
Wednesday’s show of force came after al-Sadr’s rivals had made a step forward in their government formation efforts by naming Mohammed al-Sudani as their nominee for the premiership.
Many protesters wore black to mark the days leading to Ashura, which commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohamed and one of Shiite Islam’s most important figures. Al-Sadr’s messaging to his followers has used the important day in Shiite Islam to kindle protests.
Although Al-Sadr opposes Iran’s influence over Iraq, he celebrated when lawmakers in Baghdad passed a law criminalizing the normalization of Iraq-Israel ties. Iran is also Shiite so it is difficult to understand Al-Sadr’s vehement opposition to Iran’s influence.
Biblical end times prophecy (Ram of Daniel 8) reveals Shia Iran’s efforts with its proxies to establish itself as the leader of Muslims in the Middle East is successful for a short time until Sunni Turkey (Goat of Daniel 8) exerts its dominance again as the leader of a revived Ottoman Empire. Biblical prophecy reveals this is also short-lived with the West, U.N., and possibly Russia dividing up the empire into four out of which the Little Horn (Antichrist) arises. The nation to watch as Biblical prophecy plays out is Turkey as it seeks to re-establish its former dominance over the Muslim nations as a revived Ottoman Empire.