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Thousands of Sadr followers rally in central Baghdad

Parliament has been paralysed for weeks by the dispute over the cabinet [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 April, 2016

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Followers of influential Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have flocked to central Baghdad ahead of a scheduled parliamentary session that could see a vote on a new government.

Thousands of supporters of powerful Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have answered his call to demonstrate in Baghdad on Tuesday to pressure the Iraqi government to carry out stalled reforms.

The demonstrators, many of them carrying Iraqi flags, marched from Tahrir Square in central Baghdad to an entrance to the heavily-fortified Green Zone on Tuesday, where the government is headquartered, chanting that politicians "are all thieves".

"Our participation in the demonstration aims to reject this government for being sectarian," protester Abu Ali al-Zaidi said.

"The government has no brought the country and Iraqis anything but poverty and killing," said the 47-year-old taxi driver, who travelled from Maysan province in southern Iraq to take part in the protest.

Security forces have been heavily deployed across the capital to contain the street protests, blocking off all the roads leading to downtown Tahrir Square with razor wire and concrete blocks.

"Checkpoints have been set up outside Tahrir Square, we are focused on securing the Green Zone and anyone who attempts to break in will be dealt with firmly," police captain Rami al-Tamimi told The New Arab.

 
      Sadr arrived in Baghdad on Monday to renew pressure [Getty]

Iraq has been hit by weeks of political turmoil surrounding Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's efforts to replace the cabinet of party-affiliated ministers with a government of technocrats.

The proposed changes have been opposed by powerful political parties that rely on control of ministries for patronage and funds, and parliament has repeatedly failed to vote on a new cabinet list.

Key government posts have for years been shared out based on political and sectarian quotas, a practice demonstrators have called to end.

Sadr, the member of a powerful clerical family who in earlier years raised a rebellion against US-led forces and commanded a feared militia, arrived in Baghdad on Monday to renew pressure the government to carry out reforms.

Last week, Sadr called for renewed street protests after politicians missed a deadline set by the firebrand cleric to vote on a cabinet of technocrats proposed by Abadi.

The protest has come on the same day that parliamentary speaker Salim al-Jubouri was seeking to hold a session to vote on a new cabinet.

"Jubouri will present an initiative at the very beginning of the session aimed at ending the parliament crisis. It should be satisfactory for everyone as it contains concessions," a leader in the National Iraqi Alliance told The New Arab.

But lawmakers who have sought to remove Juburi from office announced that they would not take part, meaning the required quorum may not be reached.

Parliament has been paralysed for weeks by the dispute over the cabinet, with MPs holding a sit-in, brawling in the chamber, seeking to sack the speaker and repeatedly failing to move forward on the issue of new ministers.

Abadi called a week ago for parliament to put aside its differences and do its job, saying he hoped for a vote on a new cabinet within days - something that has yet to take place.

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