CAIRO: Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit has appealed to all Iraqi parties to avoid further escalation in the country’s political crisis.
The developments have catapulted Iraq’s politics to center stage, plunging the country deeper into a political crisis as a power struggle unfolds between the two major groups.
The secretary-general urged all Iraqi parties to prioritize the national interest, and said dialogue is the only way to solve the political crisis.
Supporters of Muqtada Al-Sadr occupied parliament on Saturday with no plan to leave, deepening a months-long political standoff. Following the failure of last October’s elections to produce a Cabinet, the cleric’s supporters have entered the legislative chamber twice in recent days.
They oppose Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, the candidate for prime minister from a competing Shiite bloc that supports Iran.
The Sadrist Movement came first in an October election as the largest party in parliament, making up around a quarter of its 329 members.
With mattresses strewn about, food trucked in and protesters play-acting as MPs, hundreds of followers of Al-Sadr were camped out on Sunday inside parliament after toppling security walls around the building and storming in on Saturday.
The protesters pledged to hold an open-ended sit-in to derail efforts by Iran-backed political groups to form Iraq’s next government, according to The Associated Press. Their demands are lofty: Early elections, constitutional amendments and the ouster of Al-Sadr’s rivals.
Tuk-tuks, a mainstay of transportation in the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City from where the cleric derives much of his following, shuttled demonstrators to and from the parliament for a fee of 1,000 Iraqi dinars, or 60 US cents.
One protester, Haidar Jameel assumed the seat of parliament Speaker Mohammed Halbousi — among the most powerful political figures in Iraq — and from it, looked on at his fellow demonstrators. After Al-Sadr’s followers took over the parliament, Halbousi had suspended future sessions until further notice.
“We will not back down until our demands are met,” Jameel declared. For the protesters, most of them young men, the sit-in offers a chance to come close to the seat of power in a system that has long neglected them.