World, Middle East

Iraq’s Sadr tells followers to maintain peaceful demos

Firebrand Shia cleric reiterates call for sweeping political reform

24.03.2017
Iraq’s Sadr tells followers to maintain peaceful demos Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr addresses his supporters during a demonstration at al-Tahrir square in Baghdad, Iraq on March 24, 2017. ( Murtadha Sudani - Anadolu Agency )

BAGHDAD

Prominent Iraqi Shia cleric and politician Muqtada al-Sadr told supporters Friday to continue protesting government corruption -- even in the event of his assassination.

In an address delivered to tens of thousands of supporters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, al-Sadr said he had received numerous death threats -- he did not say by whom -- due to his loud and frequent calls for government reform.

“Continue on the path of revolution and reform… even in the event of my death,” he asserted, while urging followers to keep their protests peaceful.

“If Iraq’s official election commission and electoral law remain as they are, we will be forced to boycott the polls,” he declared.

“In the event of my death, the choice -- between reform and corruption -- will be yours,” he added.

He went on to urge the Iraqi people in general to maintain their unity and support the country’s national army.

In February, thousands of al-Sadr supporters staged large demonstrations in Tahrir Square to decry perceived government corruption and demand the reform of Iraq’s official electoral commission and changes to the country’s electoral law.

A police officer and four protesters were killed -- and hundreds of others injured -- when security forces tried to disperse demonstrators by force.

For the last two years, al-Sadr and his followers have demanded the formulation of an electoral commission untainted by perceived political or sectarian biases.

Commission officials, for their part, reject the criticisms, saying the body provides objective oversight of elections.

Al-Sadr has also repeatedly called on Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi to appoint a government of politically independent "technocrats".

In a dramatic turn of events last summer, thousands of Sadrists stormed Iraq’s parliament building in Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone to press for their demands.

In mid-2015, Iraq’s parliament approved a sweeping raft of reforms amid mounting calls for the elimination of government corruption and the streamlining of state bureaucracy.

Critics, however, including al-Sadr and his supporters, say most promised reforms have yet to be carried out.

Reporting by Ali Jawad; Writing by Mahmoud Barakat

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