Iraqi security forces erected concrete barriers on Monday ahead of counter-protests planned by Shiite political rivals against an influential cleric whose followers have staged a parliament sit-in for a third day.
Many people feared that dueling protests could escalate tensions. Calls for the counter-protest came from a political alliance of Iran-backed groups opposed to the open-ended sit-in inside Iraq’s parliament by followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The prospect of opposing demonstrations sparked fears of a deepening political crisis. Iraq’s political sphere has been a vacuum since federal elections in October.
The counter-protest was called for by the Coordination Framework, an alliance lead by Shiite parties close to Iran, and is slated to take place Monday. The alliance instructed participants to gather around Baghdad’s July 14th Bridge, which leads to the heavily fortified Green Zone where the parliament is located.
The alliance forbade participants from entering the zone, directing them to “wait for instructions.” That signaled to protesters not to clash with al-Sadr’s followers, but opened the possibility of drawn-out demonstrations in a standoff against al-Sadr.
The alliance also called for its supporters to respect the state security forces and carry Iraqi flags. Security forces erected concrete walls to act as a buffer, blocking off the passage from the bridge to the Green Zone.