Fri, 06 Dec 2019

Firebrand Cleric Green-Lights Fresh Protests in Iraq

Voice of America
21 Oct 2019, 04:05 GMT+10

BAGHDAD - Influential Iraqi Shi'ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr has given his supporters the green light to resume anti-government protests, after the movement was interrupted following a deadly crackdown.

Protests shook Iraq for six days from October 1, with young Iraqis denouncing corruption and demanding jobs and services before calling for the downfall of the government.

The protests -- notable for their spontaneity -- were violently suppressed, with official counts reporting 110 people killed and 6,000 wounded, most of them demonstrators.

Calls have been made on social media for fresh rallies on Friday, the anniversary of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi's government taking office.

"It's your right to participate in protests on October 25," Sadr told his followers in a Facebook post on Saturday evening.

Protesters have opposed any appropriation of their leaderless movement and the firebrand cleric was restrained on Sunday in comparison to his previous exhortations for "million-man marches".

He qualified his support by adding: "Those who don't want to take part in this revolution can choose another via the ballot box in internationally supervised elections and without the current politicians," he said.

His statement echoed another he made during protests at the start of the month, in which he called on the government -- of which his bloc is a part -- to resign and hold early elections "under U.N. supervision".

In his latest message, Sadr called on his supporters to protest peacefully.

"They expect you to be armed," he said, alluding to authorities blaming "saboteurs" for infiltrating protests. "But I don't think you will be."

Sadr's influence was on display Saturday during the Shi'ite Arbaeen pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala, 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Baghdad.

Thousands of his supporters heeded his call to dress in white shrouds and chanted, "Baghdad free, out with the corrupt!"

October 25 will also mark the deadline issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, spiritual leader for Iraq's Shi'ite majority, for the government to respond to protester demands.

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