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Supporters of Iraqi leader Moqtada al-Sadr swim as they protest inside the Republican Palace in the Green Zone, in Baghdad.

REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

What We're Watching: Deadly clashes in Iraq, China-Russia military drills, Colombia-Venezuela restore ties

Iraq’s deepening political crisis

Hundreds of Iraqi protesters stormed the government palace and took to the streets Monday after popular Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose bloc won the most seats in parliamentary elections last fall, announced he was stepping back from politics. At least 30 people were killed and more than 380 were injured in clashes between al-Sadr supporters, Iran-aligned groups, and Iraqi security forces. Moreover, al-Sadr announced he was starting a hunger strike until the violence stops. It's the the worst violence Baghdad has seen in years, most of which is concentrated around the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses foreign embassies and government buildings. For almost a year, Iran-aligned parties have prevented al-Sadr from forming a new government, prompting his 73 lawmakers to resign en masse this summer in protest, which in turn led to sectarian clashes. Al-Sadr — who has long railed against Iran’s influence over Iraqi social and political life— retains widespread influence over some institutions and has proved adept at whipping his supporters into a frenzy. (Last month, hundreds of his supporters breached Baghdad’s Green Zone and occupied parliament.) The Supreme Court will decide on Tuesday whether parliament will be dissolved and new elections called – though the constitution says the legislature must agree to dissolve itself. That’s unlikely given that parliament is now dominated by a pro-Iran bloc, which became the biggest parliamentary faction by default after al-Sadr withdrew. Iraq’s military announced a nationwide curfew as the situation continues to deteriorate.

Updated on Aug. 30.

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Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr storm the parliament building in Baghdad, Iraq.

REUTERS/Ahmed Saad

What We're Watching: Iraqis storm parliament, US nears landmark climate deal, Senegal set to vote

Anti-Iran protesters storm Iraq’s parliament

Hundreds of Iraqi protesters breached Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone on Wednesday and stormed the parliament. The demonstrators – supporters of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose bloc won the most seats in parliamentary elections last fall – chanted anti-Iran slogans as they rummaged through paperwork and took selfies. Crucially, they rallied against the candidacy of Mohammed al-Sudani, a former minister backed by a pro-Iran alliance, to become the next PM. For almost a year, Tehran-aligned parties have prevented al-Sadr from forming a new government, prompting the cleric’s 73 lawmakers to resign en masse last month in protest, and plunging the crisis-ridden country further into political and social turmoil. As a result, the pro-Iran bloc became the biggest parliamentary faction … by default. The demonstrators have since disbursed, but temperatures are rising in a country where joblessness and popular disillusionment are sky-high. What’s more, al-Sadr has proven adept at whipping his supporters into a frenzy in recent months, suggesting that instability in Iraq is likely to get much worse.

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A man reacts during a rally to support the National Defense Force and to condemn the expansion of the Tigray People Liberation Front fighters into Amhara and Afar regional territories at the Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia August 8, 2021.

REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

What We're Watching: Everyone vs Ethiopian PM, Brazil ditches Huawei, (more) trouble in Sudan, Argentina's midterms, Iraqi powder keg

Opposition forces unite in Ethiopia's civil war. The Tigray People's Liberation Front, which has been locked in a brutal year-long civil war against Ethiopian government forces, has now teamed up with another powerful militant outfit that wants to oust Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The TPLF, now in alliance with the Oromo Liberation Army — which claims to represent Ethiopia's largest ethnic group — have swept towards the capital Addis Ababa in recent days, prompting the embattled Abiy to call on civilians to take up arms in defense of the city. The Tigray-Oromo alliance, called the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist Forces, has called for Abiy's immediate ouster, either by negotiation or by force, and for the prosecution of government officials for war crimes. The UN says all sides in the conflict have committed abuses. The US, which has threatened to suspend Ethiopia's trade preferences over the government's alleged war crimes, is currently trying to broker a cease-fire. When Abiy came to power after popular protests in 2018, he was hailed for liberalizing what was formerly an extremely repressive government (controlled, as it happens, by the TPLF). Now it's looking like he may have unleashed the very forces that could tear the country apart and drive him from office — or worse.

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What We're Watching: A powder keg in Iraq

Iraqi PM's narrow escape. Iraq's PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi is lucky to be alive after a barrage of explosives was fired at his compound inside a high-security zone, injuring several security personnel. The brazen attack was carried out by pro-Iran militias, who have been violently calling for a recount since their parties did poorly in the recent parliamentary elections. On Friday, the militias tried to breach the fortified area known as the "Green Zone," which includes the PM's compound and Western embassies. Pro-Iran factions are particularly worried that Shia Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — whose party won the biggest share of votes and is trying to form a government — will try to temper Tehran's growing influence over the oil-rich country. (Al-Sadr has called for way less foreign interference in Iraq from Iran and the West). Even before the recent unrest, things weren't going well in Iraq, where power supplies are scarce and the economy is in shambles. What's more, Iraqis have little faith in the political elite's ability to fix things, as was reflected in the record-low election turnout. We're watching to see if this latest round of violence begets… more violence.

Men walk near election campaign posters ahead of the parliamentary election in Mosul, Iraq.

REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

Iraq has elections this weekend — will anybody show up?

Iraq will hold on Sunday its fifth election since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, and the first since a widespread protest movement in 2019 ousted the government in place at that time. Over 900 candidates are vying for 329 parliamentary seats against a backdrop of still-elevated economic, social, and security tensions in the oil-rich country. Eurasia Group analyst Sofia Meranto explains what's at stake in the vote.

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