In May 2016 the Sadrists confirmed their control of the Baghdad protest movement. The demonstrations originally started in the south and spread to Baghdad in July 2015. Secular civic groups and the Communist Party were the early organizers of the movement. In the spring of 2016 however, Moqtada al-Sadr decided to co-opt the weekly marches in the capital in an attempt to make him the pre-eminent party boss in Iraqi politics. That didn’t work out as planned, but Sadr has kept up pressure on the government each Friday in Baghdad.
On May 20, 2016 the Sadrists took over the Green Zone for a second time. Thousands marched from Sadr City to Tahrir Square and then were able to move into the government sector. There they entered the parliament building once again, which had not been in session since the last time the Green Zone was occupied. The first time the security forces stood by and watched. This time however they used tear gas and fired shots. Four people were killed as a result, and up to 90 went to the hospital mostly for inhaling gas. Prime Minister Hadiar Abadi condemned the take over saying that such lawlessness was unacceptable. Sadr originally thought marching on the government sector would make the premier dependent upon him to pass his reforms, and pressure the other parties to follow suit. Instead, Sadr obliterated parliament. The Kurds left Baghdad in protest, while a block of parliamentarians opposed to Abadi tried forming an opposition party. Sadr’s plan completely backfired, but it didn’t appear he had a follow up strategy.
That was shown on May 27 when the Sadrists returned to the streets of the capital. The day before Abadi asked for no protests because of the military campaign in Fallujah. The secular protest movement complied, but Sadr did not. Again, there were clashes with the security forces to keep people away from the Green Zone. There were protests in southern cities as well that the Sadrists did not appear to be involved with, but in Baghdad they had taken over. Still, there appeared to be no method behind the demonstrations. Parliament is no closer to coming together and moving on Abadi’s reforms that Sadr has been demanding. In fact, the marches and continued moves into the Green Zone are perpetuating the current crisis.
Sadr has always aspired to be the dominant figure in Iraqi politics. His problem is that he never appears to think long term. The on going protests are a perfect example. He succeeded in taking over the Baghdad protests and the Green Zone, but there is nothing else to his strategy. Iraqi politics has been effectively blown up by Sadr’s actions, and he has no solutions to what he’s created other than to continue on his path.
eKurd, “Iraqi Kurdistan News in brief – May 16, 2016,” 5/16/16
Habib, Mustafa, “The Danger Of Dictatorship: How To Replace Iraq’s Flawed Political System?” Niqash, 5/12/16
Iraq Times, “Health Ministry: 39 wounded in the process of breaking into the Green Zone,” 5/20/16
Al Mada, “Secret meetings to form new alliances to isolate the Sadrists and end the paralysis in parliament and the government,” 5/7/16
- “Tahrir protesters postpone demonstrations Friday until further notice,” 5/26/16
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “At Least Two Killed In Iraqi Protests In Baghdad’s Green Zone,” 5/21/16
Rudaw, “Protesters ignore Abadi’s plea to stay home and gather in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square,” 5/27/16
Sotaliraq, "The funeral of four protesters killed in Najaf," 5/21/16
- “Protesters stormed the parliament building and continuing firing to disperse them,” 5/20/16
- “Thousands head from Sadr City towards the Green Zone,” 5/20/16