Anti-government protesters in Iraq demand political change after unrest

Hundreds of Iraqis angered by a months-long political crisis demonstrated in the capital Baghdad on Friday, days after deadly clashes between rival Shiite groups raised fears of widespread unrest.

Waving banners and Iraqi flags, nonpartisan protesters poured into al-Nusor Square in western Baghdad, demanding a complete political overhaul, according to footage carried by state media.

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The mobilization follows nearly 11 months of paralysis which has left the country without a new government, prime minister or president, as Shiite groups have disagreed over the formation of a coalition since elections last October.

Some demonstrators shouted the slogan: “The people want the fall of the regime”.

Others carried banners and chanted slogans lamenting interference from neighboring Iran, according to videos and images circulating on social media.

“Iran will no longer govern,” they said.

The peaceful protesters were supporters of an anti-government protest movement that erupted in October 2019 but has since died down.

Their gatherings in Baghdad are not uncommon, but Friday’s relatively large turnout came after the political crisis in Iraq worsened.

Clashes between supporters of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and rival groups earlier this week turned the Green Zone – home to government buildings and embassies – into a battleground.

Thirty Sadr supporters have been killed in nearly 24 hours of clashes that erupted on Monday after his supporters stormed the government headquarters.

The violence shifted to the south of the country on Thursday where overnight clashes between Sadr-affiliated groups and the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq force left four people dead.

Two members of Sadr’s Saraya al-Salam force were among those killed.

The oil-rich country has been ravaged by decades of conflict and rampant corruption.

It is blighted by ailing infrastructure, power cuts and crumbling utilities, and now faces water shortages as drought ravages swaths of the country.

Despite Iraq’s oil wealth, many citizens are mired in poverty and some 35% of young people are unemployed, according to the United Nations.

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