BAGHDAD (TSWT) — Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis heeded an influential Shia cleric’s call to rally before a mass bed on Friday in the heart of Baghdad’s heavily fortified government zone. The meeting took place amid an escalating political crisis that has left the country’s capital on edge.
The powerful cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, had summoned his followers from all over Iraq to pray in Baghdad’s Green Zone – a heavily fortified area in the heart of the city that houses government offices and foreign embassies. They arrived and stood outside in the scorching summer heat, with temperatures reaching 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit).
Friday’s mass bed was the latest display of strength from the cleric, whose political power stems from his strong constituency.
Al-Sadr has used his large following as a pressure tactic against his rivals after his party failed to form a government despite winning the largest number of seats in last October’s federal election. He left the political process to form the next government in June.
His followers gathered in front of the Victory Arch, a monument erected during Saddam Hussein’s regime to commemorate the Iran-Iraq war. It was built to hold military parades.
Farid Jaafar, 16, arrived from the province of Babylon to show his support for al-Sadr. His transport was paid for by al-Sadr’s party, he said. “I love Muqtada,” he said.
Holding the prayer within the very restrictive zone that is closed to most Iraqis points to the power and influence of the cleric.
Last Saturday, thousands of his followers stormed parliament to derail attempts by al-Sadr’s Shia rivals to form a government. About 125 people were injured in the violence, most of them protesters and 25 members of the security forces.
Al-Sadr’s followers camped in parliament until, after four days, he ordered them to withdraw from the congress building, but sit-in outside. He calls for the dissolution of parliament and early elections.
Its Shia rivals in the Iran-backed Coordination Framework have said they would consider holding early elections in the event of a national consensus.