In Iraq, rival protest camps dig for the long haul |
In the capital of crisis-torn Iraq, two tent cities have sprung up as rival Shiite blocs set up protest camps, complete with cooked meals and air conditioners against the scorching heat.
As the war-scarred country’s political stalemate drags on since October’s inconclusive elections, both sides are digging for the long haul in and near Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone.
Supporters of the incendiary cleric and political kingmaker Moqtada Sadr, who has hundreds of thousands at his disposal, came in late July when they stormed parliament and then set up camp on the lawns outside ‘outside.
The rally is a show of force by the Sadrists against their Shiite opponents from a pro-Iranian faction called the Coordination Framework, amid a standoff over Iraq’s political future.
The pro-Iranian group followed suit by organizing its own sit-in, on an avenue leading to the Green Zone, the district housing government institutions and foreign embassies.
The camps are held in the ‘mawkeb’ tradition, where stalls provide food and drink to pilgrims during Ashura and Arbaeen, two major festivals in the Shia Muslim calendar, on their journey to the holy city of Karbala .
“We grabbed our pillows and came over,” said Fadel Rahman, a 33-year-old Sadrist.
Along with about 20 other people, he says he helped fund a mawkeb with a contribution of about $170.
“We serve meals to protesters. There is tea and cold water, which is the most important thing in this heat,” Rahman said, as temperatures rose above 40 degrees Celsius.
His request is “to eliminate the corrupt”; a catchphrase from the Sadrists who demand the dissolution of parliament and early legislative elections.
More than ten months after the last legislative elections in Iraq, the country still does not have a prime minister, president or government.
Negotiations to get out of the crisis are stalling against a backdrop of behind-the-scenes haggling and a deluge of bitter invective between the two rival camps.
The avenue leading to the parliament building in Baghdad is lined with colorful tents protecting the Sadrists from the sun.
In total, their camp is supplied by 70 mawakeb, distributing around 100 kilograms each day of rice alone, along with other food and drink, at a cost of $4,000, an organizer said.
The lucky ones have portable air conditioners that are plugged into the parliament’s power supply. Sandwiches are distributed to them by volunteers.
The back of a pick-up has been transformed into a mobile canteen where stews, rice and beans are simmering in large pots.
“Every evening we get together with my friends to decide on the menu for the next day,” said Mohamed Hussein, 33, sweating in the sun as he served lunch.
“Any form of support”
In the opposing camp, supporters of the Coordination Framework are less numerous than the Sadrists.
They have been occupying an avenue leading to the Green Zone for a week, demanding a government capable of improving the daily lives of Iraqis and solving electricity and water shortages, among other problems.
A banner hanging from a tent calls for “respect for state institutions, in particular the legislative and judicial powers”.
The Coordination Framework is also seeking support from the mawakeb, according to an official.
“Thousands of people are affected by the delay in forming the government. They are ready to provide any form of support for the formation of a government,” he said, asking to remain anonymous.
One of the sit-in protesters, Abu Ali al-Zayadi, 45, said he was here to stay “until the realization of our legitimate demands and above all the formation of a government”.