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Al-Sadr mobilizes hundreds of thousands in Baghdad, calls for PMU dissolution
The mass mobilization took place despite the absence of Al-Sadr, as officials fear the show of strength could disrupt ongoing attempts to form a government
By News Desk - July 16 2022
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Followers of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr chant slogans during open-air Friday prayers in Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, 15 July, 2022. (Photo credit: REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani)

Hundreds of thousands of worshippers loyal to Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr flooded the streets of Baghdad for Friday prayers on 15 July, in a show of political might, nine months into a parliamentary deadlock.

The worshippers, wearing white and carrying Iraqi flags, filled the Al-Falah street of Sadr City – the cleric’s stronghold.

The massive turnout was despite the absence of Al-Sadr and the scorching summer heat.

Sheikh Mahmoud al-Jiyashi led the prayers, reading out a speech from Al-Sadr in which he called for the dissolution of armed groups that have deep ties with Iran, referring to the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), also known as the Hashd al-Shaabi.

According to Al-Sadr’s speech, the PMU “must be reorganized, and undisciplined elements must be removed,” lamenting “foreign interventions” without naming specific countries.

“We are at a difficult … crossroads in the formation of the government, entrusted to some we do not trust,” the speech went on to add, taking aim at the Coordination Framework (CF).

The CF is an ad hoc group of Shia parties with close ties to the PMU, including the State of Law Coalition and the Fatah Alliance.

These parties lost by a large margin to the Sadrist bloc during elections last October, with many alleging fraud in the results.

Last month, Al-Sadr called on all deputies belonging to his bloc to resign from parliament and announced his own departure from politics.

The CF has since been in talks with other Iraqi political groups in the hopes of naming a prime minister to form a government.

Before withdrawing his lawmakers, Al-Sadr pushed for a coalition with Sunni and Kurdish blocs to form what he called a “national majority government.”

According to Iraqi media reports, the CF expects to have overcome the political deadlock by the end of July.

However, many officials reportedly fear Al-Sadr will use his large popular following to disrupt attempts to form a government, or to threaten to bring down future leaders with protests.

“We could be millions strong today,” Riyadh Husseini, a manual laborer from the southern town of Hilla told reporters on Friday in Baghdad, after sleeping on the street overnight in front of the podium where he hoped Al-Sadr would appear.

“If Al-Sadr calls for the removal of the corrupt parties in power, they’ll be gone within the hour,” Husseini said.

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