On Friday, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis heeded the call of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to gather for mass prayer in Baghdad.
The gathering took place amid an escalating political crisis that has put the country’s capital on edge.
Al-Sadr had invited followers from all over Iraq to come and pray inside Baghdad’s Green Zone – a heavily fortified area in the heart of the city that houses government buildings and foreign embassies.
The gathering arrived and stood outside in the scorching summer heat, with temperatures reaching 48°C (118°F).
Friday’s mass prayer was the latest display of strength by the cleric, whose political power derives from his strong grassroots support base.
Al-Sadr used his followers at the grassroots level as a pressure tactic against his rivals after his party failed to form a government despite winning the largest number of seats in the federal elections held last October. He left the political process to form the next government in June.
His followers gathered facing the Victory Arch, a monument erected during Saddam Hussein’s regime to commemorate the Iran-Iraq war. It was built for the purpose of holding military parades.
Last Saturday, thousands of his followers stormed parliament in an attempt to block attempts by Sadr’s Shiite opponents to form a government. About 125 people were injured in the violence, mostly protesters and 25 security forces.
His Shiite opponents said within the framework of Iran-backed coordination that they would consider early elections if there was a national consensus.