BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Powerful Shi‘ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said on Monday street protests by his supporters demanding the Iraqi government’s resignation were intended to bolster the resolve of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to deliver on promised reforms.
Last Friday, in the biggest show of opposition yet to Abadi’s authority, Sadr told around 200,000 supporters that the “government of corruption” should be overthrown.
“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.”
Abadi promised political and economic reforms last summer after mass street protests, but quickly ran into legal challenges and systemic resistance to change.
Abadi, 19 months into his four-year term, vowed in February to appoint technocrats to replace ministers appointed on the basis of political affiliations but that pledge too remains unfulfilled and frustration with the government has increased.
Iraqi’s current system distributes positions along ethnic and sectarian lines. These patronage networks are blamed for breeding corruption that overburden the state amid a drop in oil revenues and the escalating cost of war against Islamic State militants, who control vast swathes of Iraqi territory.
On Sunday state television said Sadr and other leaders of the National Alliance, a loose gathering 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.
However, reports on other media including Dubai-based al-Hadath TV said on Monday that Sadr had disagreed with Abadi at the meeting.
Reporting and writing by Saif Hameed; Editing by Gareth Jones