San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
Violent protests in Iraq deepen political chaos
Thousands of followers of an influential Shiite cleric breached Iraq’s parliament on Saturday, for the second time this week, to protest efforts by his political rivals to form a ruling coalition.
Security forces initially used tear gas to try to repel the demonstrators, but the protesters pushed through and declared a sit-in.
An expected parliament session did not take place Saturday and there were no lawmakers in the hall. The Ministry of Health said about 125 people were injured in the clashes — 100 protesters and 25 members of the security forces.
Earlier in the day and heeding the calls of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the demonstrators used ropes and chains to pull down cement barricades leading to the gate of Iraq’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which contains government buildings and embassies.
Al-Sadr has resorted to using his large grassroots following as a pressure tactic against his rivals, after his party was not able to form a government despite having won the largest number of seats in the federal elections held last October.
With neither side willing to concede, and al-Sadr intent on derailing government formation efforts lead by his rivals, Iraq’s limbo and political paralysis has ushered in a new era of instability in the beleaguered country.
Now, with Iraq in the tenth month since the last elections, the political vacuum is shaping up to be the longest since the
U.S.-led 2003 invasion to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein reset the country’s political order.