Iraq's former paramilitary alliance Hashed Al Shaabi
Members of Iraq's former paramilitary alliance Hashed Al Shaabi stand guard as supporters of the Coordination Framework take part in a counter-protest against Sadr's loyalists who have been occupying the parliament, outside the capital Baghdad's high-security Green Zone on August 1, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

Baghdad: Baghdad braced for demonstrations on Monday by rival groups, raising fears of clashes as tension soars over the formation of a government.

Iraq’s longest post-election deadlock, at nearly 10 months with no government after an October vote, has led to unrest including protests by supporters of the powerful cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, who are occupying parliament in an open-ended sit-in.

Sadr’s opponents have called for counterprotests on Monday evening near the parliament, saying that was aimed at protecting state institutions against the civil unrest.

“We’re ready for whatever Sadr orders,” said one supporter of the cleric, Kadhim Haitham, on his way to join the parliament sit-in.

“We’re against the Framework. All they’ve got is statements and no popular support. We don’t know if their protest will be armed but they’re scared.”

The Iraqi parliament sits in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which Sadr supporters stormed with ease twice last week as security forces stood back. The Framework’s protests are due to take place nearby at the entrance of the Green Zone.

A commander of a militia said he feared clashes and hoped calm heads would prevail.

“The situation in Iraq is very tough. We hope God will deliver us from fighting among the brothers. If things devolve, it will ruin the whole region,” the commander said, declining to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Sadr’s supporters have called for new elections and an end to the political system that has existed since the US-led invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein.

That system is blamed by many Iraqis for the endemic corruption and dysfunction that has prevented any meaningful progress for years, despite Baghdad’s oil wealth and relative peace after the defeat of Daesh militants in 2017.