Accessibility links

Breaking News

Powerful Iraqi Cleric Vows Stepped Up Protests If Reforms Blocked

Iraq -- Prominent Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaks during a recent news conference.

Powerful Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim leader Muqtada al-Sadr warned of an escalation in street protests if politicians obstruct a government overhaul planned by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.

In a sermon on March 25, Sadr called on Abadi to announce a new cabinet over the weekend, replacing current politically appointed ministers with technocrats who will eliminate the system of political patronage that has fueled bribery and embezzlement.

"If [Abadi] brings a logical reform package to parliament and does not get enough votes, there will be a call to escalate protests against those who did not vote" for the proposed cabinet, said Sadr's envoy, Sheikh Asaad al-Nasiri.

Tens of thousands of Sadr followers gathered to hear the sermon outside the gates of Baghdad's fortified Green Zone that houses government offices.

Sadr's followers began a sit-in a week ago to pressure the government to see through anti-corruption pledges. Abadi has shown a willingness to act, but has been slow to deliver on reforms announced in February.

Corruption is depleting the government's resources at a time when revenues are declining due to low oil prices and spending is ramping up for the war against Islamic State.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP