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Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr starts Green Zone sit-in

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Influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi Sunday night after beginning a sit-in in Baghdad’s highly fortified Green Zone intended to be a show of force following his calls to combat government corruption.

Earlier in the day security forces stepped aside to allow al-Sadr to enter the Green Zone after weeks of protests in the Iraqi capital. Al-Sadr has repeatedly called on al-Abadi to enact sweeping economic and political reforms.

“I am a representative of the people and will enter the (Green Zone),” al-Sadr told hundreds of his supporters gathered outside the compound’s walls, asking his followers to stay outside and remain peaceful.

As al-Sadr walked through a checkpoint to enter the Green Zone, officials in charge of its security greeted him with kisses and provided him with a chair.

Al-Sadr was accompanied by his personal security detail and the leader of his Shia militia, Sarayat al-Salam. After he began his sit-in, his supporters erected tents and lay down mattresses.

Al-Sadr formerly led a militia against American and Iraqi forces; he’s now a mainstream political figure.

He has threatened that his followers will storm the Green Zone if his political demands aren’t met.

The reason this is significant is because al-Sadr very rarely leaves Najaf, the city where he lives.

This is one of the few cases where his followers have seen him up close. People were weeping as he spoke.

He went into the Green Zone and he was kissed and greeted by senior Iraqi security officials. He sat down on the sidewalk.

Iraqi security forces manning checkpoints in Baghdad again stepped aside to allow al-Sadr’s supporters to march up to the Green Zone’s outer walls to begin a sit-in, despite a government order deeming the gathering “unauthorized”.

The move called into question Prime Minister al-Abadi’s ability to control security in the capital.

“I thank the security forces,” al-Sadr said before beginning his sit-in. “He who attacks them, attacks me.”

While al-Abadi proposed a reform package last August, few of his plans have been implemented as the leader has made several political missteps and struggled with the country’s increasingly sectarian politics amid the ongoing fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group.

Shias dominate the central government, while the country’s Kurds in the north exercise increasing autonomy and much of the Sunni population has either been displaced by violence or continues to live under ISIL rule.

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