After a week of anti-government protests that left dozens dead, a political crisis has erupted in Iraq. As much of the country appeared quieter than it has been for a week, President Barham Saleh appealed for "sons of the same country" to put an end to the "discord" that has reigned since protests erupted. Saleh said those responsible for the violence were "enemies of the people" and proposed a cabinet reshuffle, more oversight to stamp out corruption and a "national, all-encompassing and frank dialogue" without "foreign interference." Saleh was not the first to suggest a way out of the political crisis. Embattled Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and Parliament Speaker Mohammed Hal-Halbusi have both proposed a list of reforms to address popular grievances.
However, expectations from the meeting of the Iraqi parliament were slim as the body failed to reach a quorum three days ago. Those boycotting included its largest bloc, the 54 members of parliament led by firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr, who threw his weight behind the demonstrations last week.
The spread of the violence to Baghdad's Sadr City district this week could escalate the security challenge posed by the protests. Protests resumed overnight in Sadr City, with at least one member of the security forces killed. Iraq's military said yesterday one member of an Interior Ministry force was killed and four wounded when they came under fire from unknown assailants in Sadr City, where 15 people died the previous night in riots. Unrest has historically been hard to put down in the district, where around a third of Baghdad's 8 million people live with little electricity or water and few jobs. Sadr City is also a bastion of the cleric Sadr.
The protests began spontaneously last week in Baghdad and across southern cities, without public support from any major political faction in Iraq. They have since escalated and grown more violent, spreading from cities in the south to other areas, mainly populated by members of the Shiite majority whose parties hold political power but say their communities have been neglected for decades. The unrest poses an unprecedented challenge for Abdul-Mahdi, who took office last year as a consensus candidate of powerful Shiite religious parties that have dominated the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. More than 110 Iraqis have died and 6,000 have been wounded in the past week as protesters calling for the removal of the government and an end to corruption have clashed with the security forces, mainly in Baghdad and the south.