Followers of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr overran the Iraqi parliament building Saturday in an apparent attempt to disrupt and overthrow the government led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
The Sadr movement, also known as the Sadr Trend, stormed the so-called Green Zone of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad where many government buildings and embassies are based. The Green Zone was established by the U.S. after the Iraqi invasion in 2003, and housed U.S. forces and government personnel throughout the occupation. Al-Sadr has called for a reformation of the Iraqi government, while his forces have engaged in protests for several days. Iraq’s Council of Representatives (CoR), Iraq’s parliament, has been embroiled in internal power struggles for the past month while al-Abadi has attempted to reconcile the government.
“Iraq’s government is now at its most unstable, as the CoR is physically inaccessible to many members of government amid reports that Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and CoR Speaker Salim al-Juburi were evacuated from the Green Zone,” said Patrick Martin, an expert in Iraqi security and politics, in a report by the Washington, D.C. based Institute for the Study of War.
In addition to al-Abadi and al-Juburi’s departure, ministers and government officials have been effectively prevented from engaging in their duties, leaving Baghdad essentially leaderless. According to Martin, the disruption of government services is a purposeful tactic being employed by the Sadr movement. Al-Sadr has thus far ordered his followers to abstain from engaging in violent conduct and avoid the various embassies in the Green Zone, though Martin noted the situation could escalate to violence.
“Violence is a possibility as the security forces attempt to secure Baghdad, particularly as they are already stretched thin protecting thousands of Shi’a pilgrims descending on Kadhimiyah neighborhood for the commemoration of the death of the Imam al-Kadhim, a major Shi’a holiday,” explained Martin in the ISW report. He noted that it is possible that the Islamic State, a Sunni terrorist group, could take advantage of the chaotic situation and attack their Shia rivals. ISIS has been particularly effective in attacking the capital with suicide bombers despite the continued efforts by coalition forces participating Operation Inherent Resolve to push the terrorist group back. The most recent bombing came east of Baghdad Saturday just as protesters were storming the Green Zone.
The apparent coup comes just days after Vice President Joe Biden paid a secret visit to Baghdad in an attempt to remedy the political situation and further coordinate on the ongoing operations against ISIS.
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