Iraq camps splinter over cleric’s backing of new PM
Baghdad, Iraq - Protests camps in Iraq’s capital and the south began to fracture on Monday, activists and journalists said, split over whether to back prime minister-designate Mohammad Allawi.
Allawi’s nomination has so far failed to quell the months-long rallies sweeping Baghdad and the mainly-Shiite south, where young demonstrators have demanded nothing short of a total government overhaul.
Most young protesters have rejected Allawi as too close to the ruling elite but powerful cleric Moqtada Sadr, who has backed the rallies, welcomed his appointment on Saturday. Sadr, however, urged his followers to stay in the streets, creating a rift within protest squares.
Late on Sunday, anti-government demonstrators opposed to Allawi’s nomination started to cluster their tents closer together in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, activists at the heart of the protest movement said.
“They’re split into two parts now, and there are plenty of people on both sides. I’m worried about a clash,” a protester said.
Earlier, dozens of Sadrists had stormed a key building in Tahrir that had been occupied for months by protesters, driving out activists and removing banners listing their demands. In the southern port city of Basra, university students relocated their tents overnight to move away from those occupied by Sadr supporters, a reporter said.
“If Sadrists come to the protest square, don’t come into contact with them, don’t make problems,” one organiser there called out over a loudspeaker.
Sadr, a 45 year old enigmatic figure with a cult-like following across Baghdad, backed the protests when they first broke out in October but has rethought his support multiple times since. After urging his supporters back to the streets on Friday, he endorsed Allawi and condemned student sit-ins and road closures - the main tactics used by most protesters.
A protester grabs a tear gas canister fired by police amid clashes in alKhillani Square off central Baghdad’s Sinak bridge, last Tuesday