BEIRUT, LEBANON (1:50 P.M.) – Thousands of supporters of Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr flooded Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, Friday, rallying for electoral reform and against government corruption.
During the demonstration, al-Sadr called on the Iraqi government to integrate the Shia-majority paramilitary group Hashed al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilisation Unit (PMF) into the country’s armed forces, calling for militias outside the government’s control to be disarmed.
His statement comes after the cleric visited Saudi Arabia over the weekend for the first time in a decade, where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries.
The Iraqi state-sponsored PMF, made up for some 40 predominantly Shia militias, is at the forefront of the counter-offensive against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL/ISIS) and was assembled on the call of Iraq’s grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the summer of 2014.
Despite Iraqi officials liaising with the paramilitary’s representatives and the group’s support from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the PMU is a seperate entity from the Iraqi Armed Forces and has faced accusations of human rights breaches against Iraq’s Sunni population.
Al-Sadr originally called for the demonstration in order to protest Iraq’s current electoral system ahead of the country’s 2018 elections, calling attention to a new law being prepared for parliament that would allegedly favour larger political parties.