Thousands of Iraqis demonstrated against corruption in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Friday, including supporters of powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Protesters have taken to the streets of Baghdad and cities in the Shiite south for weeks, railing against rampant corruption and abysmal services, especially power outages that leave just a few hours of government-supplied electricity per day during the scorching summer heat.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has responded to the demonstrations and a call from Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, with a reform programme aimed at curbing corruption and streamlining the government, but it is still in its early stages.
At Friday’s demonstration, hundreds waved Iraqi flags and chanted anti-corruption slogans as in previous weeks, but this time the crowd also included supporters of Sadr, responding to his call to take part.
Sadrists, many of them dressed in black, chanted slogans including “Bye bye Nuri al-Maliki” and called for the ex-premier, whose eight years in office were marked by widespread graft, to be executed.
“We came out (to protest) in support of the reforms that were announced by Prime Minister Abadi. We want to push and support the state in implementing them,” said Nafia al-Bakhaki, an official in the Sadr movement.
“All the officials in the previous governments, especially Maliki’s government, are responsible for corruption,” said Sheikh Samir al-Zraijawi, also from the Sadr movement.
Some did not welcome the involvement of supporters of Sadr, who had ministers in Maliki’s governments and still wields significant influence despite seeking to officially distance himself from politics as he pursues religious studies.
“It is hypocritical and misleading (to say the Sadrists) are with the people,” said Iraqi Communist party member Siham al-Zubaidi, noting their strong presence in parliament and the fact that a since-resigned Sadrist deputy premier faces corruption allegations.
Parliament signed off on Abadi’s proposed reforms as well as additional measures, and the prime minister has begun ordered changes, including the scrapping of 11 cabinet posts and for the bloated number of guards for officials to be slashed.
But even with popular support and backing from Sistani, the fact that parties across the political spectrum benefit from graft is seen as a major obstacle to the nascent reform effort.