Muqtada al-Sadr, a powerful Shiite cleric, called for a mass prayer to be held on Friday in the centre of Baghdad‘s heavily defended government zone. Thousands of Iraqis responded to his appeal. The gathering took place as the nation’s capital was on edge due to an intensifying political crisis.
In the strongly defended Green Zone of Baghdad, which is home to the capital’s administrative facilities and international embassies, Sadr had invited his supporters from all across Iraq to gather and pray. When they arrived, they stood outside in the oppressive July heat, which reached temperatures of 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit).
The cleric’s political influence is derived from his broad network of grassroots support, and Friday’s mass prayer was his most recent act of strength.
After his party was unable to form a government despite winning the most seats in the federal elections held last October, Sadr has utilised his large grassroots support as a negotiating tool with his competitors. In June, he withdrew from the race to create the next administration.
His supporters gathered in front of the Victory Arch, a memorial built under Saddam Hussein to honour the Iran-Iraq War. It was constructed so that military parades could be held there.
To support al-Sadr, 16-year-old Farid Jaafar travelled from the region of Babylon. He claimed that Sadr’s group paid for his transportation. I adore Moqtada, he declared.
The cleric’s authority and influence are demonstrated by holding the prayer in the extremely restricted area that is off limits to the majority of Iraqis.
Thousands of his supporters stormed parliament last Saturday in an effort to thwart Sadr’s Shiite adversaries’ attempts to establish a government. The majority of those hurt in the violence were protestors, while 25 members of the security forces also suffered injuries.
For four days, Sadr’s supporters camped out inside the parliament before he gave them the order to leave but continue their sit-in outside. He is urging the dissolution of the legislature and the holding of early elections.
In the event of a national consensus, his Shiite opponents in the Iran-backed Coordination Framework have stated they would think about conducting early elections.