Influential Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said on Monday street protests by his supporters calling for the resignation of the Iraqi government were intended to encourage the resolve of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to deliver on promised reforms.
Last Friday, in the largest protest against Abadi’s authority, Sadr told around 200,000 supporters that the “government of corruption” should be toppled.
“The demonstrations are in support of the prime minister to carry out comprehensive reforms and to form an independent government of technocrats,” Sadr said in a statement posted on his website on Monday.
“Brother Abadi should use them in his favor before they turn against him.”
Following mass street protests that took place last summer, Abadi promised political and economic reforms, but quickly ran into legal challenges and systemic resistance to change.
Abadi, 19 months into his four-year term, vowed in February to replace ministers appointed on the basis of political affiliations with technocrats but that pledge too remains unfulfilled and frustration with the government has increased.
According to Iraqi’s current system, positions are distributed along ethnic and sectarian lines. These patronage networks are blamed for breeding corruption that overstrain the state amid a drop in oil revenues and the escalating cost of war against ISIS militants, who control vast swathes of Iraqi territory.
On Sunday state television said Sadr and other leaders of the National Alliance, the largest group of Shi’ite parties, voiced support for Abadi’s plans at a meeting held with the prime minister in the Shi’ite holy city of Kerbala, south of Baghdad.
The meeting was attended by Haider al-Abadi, Moqtada al-Sadr, Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, head of the National Alliance, Hussein al-Shahristani, leader of the Independent bloc, and Khodair al-Khozaei Vice President of Iraq.