Supporters of the Iraqi Shia religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr have rallied in front of the country’s Supreme Judicial Council, expanding a sit-in that initially began in front of the parliament building, and escalating their calls for parliament to be dissolved.
The locations, both in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, a legacy of Iraq’s American occupation where government buildings and embassies are found, are now at the centre of a political storm in the country.
“These supporters came from the area in front of the parliament,” said Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from outside the Supreme Judicial Council on Tuesday. “They say that they are requesting that the Judicial Council dissolves the parliament, and obliges concerned authorities to hold early elections as a way to get out of the current political impasse.”
In response, the Supreme Judicial Council, along with the Federal Supreme Court, said that they had received threats, and had suspended court sessions.
Al-Sadr warned last Wednesday that he was giving the judiciary a week to dissolve parliament, but the Supreme Judicial Council has stated that it does not have the authority to do so.
Supporters of the Shia religious leader, who has been a growing force in Iraqi politics over the last decade, emerged as the biggest party in parliament after elections in October.
However, they were unable to form a government, and al-Sadr ordered his parliamentary bloc to resign from their seats en-masse in June, which they promptly did.
Al-Sadr’s supporters have taken to the streets ever since and stormed parliament in July.
In return, supporters of al-Sadr’s Iran-backed rivals, the Coordination Framework Alliance (CFA), have held protests in August near the Green Zone, raising fears of a clash between the two groups.
The unrest at Iraq’s judiciary has forced the country’s caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to return to the country from a regional summit in Egypt.
Al-Kadhimi said that the suspension of the judiciary risked pushing the country into “grave dangers”, and called for political talks to restart.
The United Nations also called for the judiciary to be allowed to carry out its work.
“The right to peaceful protest is an essential element of democracy,” a UN statement said. “Equally important is the assertion of constitutional compliance and respect for state institution. State institutions must operate unimpeded in service of the Iraqi people, including the SJC [Supreme Judicial Council].”
While both al-Sadr and his CFA rivals belong to Iraq’s religious Shia bloc, al-Sadr has attempted to portray himself as an Iraqi nationalist, in contrast to what is perceived as the CFA’s pro-Iran ideology.
However, al-Sadr himself has had close ties to Iran in the past, and many critics worry about his potential to lead Iraq into violence.