BAGHDAD ( Associated Press) – Thousands of Iraqis heeded the call of an influential Shia cleric to show strength for mass prayer in Baghdad’s heavily fortified government area on Friday. The meeting took place amid growing political crisis Which has sidelined the capital of the country.
The mighty cleric, Muktada al-Sadr, He called his followers from all over Iraq to pray inside Baghdad’s Green Zone – a heavily fortified area in the heart of the city that houses government buildings and foreign embassies. They arrived and stood outside in times of scorching heat, with temperatures reaching 48 °C (118 °F).
Friday’s mass prayer was the latest show of strength by the cleric, whose political power derives from his strong grassroots support base.
After his party was not able to form a government despite winning the largest number of seats in the federal elections held last October, al-Sadr has used his large grassroots position as a pressure tactic against his rivals. He dropped out of the political process to form the next government in June.
His followers gathered to face the Victory Arch, a memorial built during Saddam Hussein’s rule to commemorate the Iran-Iraq War. It was built for the purpose of conducting military parades.
16-year-old Farid Ja’far had come from Babylon province to show his support for al-Sadr. He said his transportation was paid for by al-Sadr’s party. “I love Muktada,” he said.
The stopping of prayer within the highly restrictive area closed to most Iraqis points to the power and influence of the cleric.
Thousands of his followers stormed Parliament last Saturday In an attempt to derail attempts by al-Sadr’s Shia rivals to form a government. Around 125 people were injured in the violence, most of them protesters and 25 members of security forces.
The followers of al-Sadr camped inside the parliament four days later until he ordered them To move out of the assembly building, but maintain the dharna outside. He is demanding the dissolution of Parliament and early elections.
His Shia rivals in the Iran-backed coordination framework have said they would consider holding early elections in the event of a national consensus.