The Washington Post

Shiite power struggle stokes fears of unrest

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Thousands gathered in Baghdad on Monday for a counterral­ly called by Iran-backed Shiite groups against their rival — an influentia­l cleric whose followers are staging a sit-in inside the Iraqi parliament — only to withdraw hours later.

It wasn’t immediatel­y clear if the pullback by supporters of the Coordinati­on Framework was a de-escalation in their power struggle with cleric Moqtada alSadr’s loyalists.

Sadr’s followers have been camped inside the parliament in Baghdad’s Green Zone since storming the building Saturday, demanding reforms and decrying the Iran-backed political alliance. Sadr’s representa­tives have urged supporters nationwide to protest.

Dueling protests between the two major Shiite factions would have plunged Iraq deeper into crisis. The nation has struggled with a political vacuum since parliament­ary elections in October, in which no one won an outright majority.

Earlier Monday, security forces erected concrete barriers ahead of the street protests by the Iranbacked groups. By early afternoon, thousands of Shiite men arrived at the July 14th Bridge, which leads to the Green Zone, waving Iraqi flags and those belonging to Iranbacked groups and figures.

Hours later, the protesters suddenly folded up their banners and left the area — after a Coordinati­on Framework leader directed them to leave.

If the situation escalates, it would be the closest that followers of the two sides have come to a confrontat­ion since 2008.

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