Thousands of ordinary Iraqis have braved scorching temperatures to denounce government corruption. A top Shiite cleric has been denouncing state corruption and putting the government on notice.
For the second Friday in a row, thousands of ordinary Iraqis braved the summer Mesopotamian heat in central Baghdad and other cities to denounce high-level government corruption.
"In the name of religion, the thieves robbed us," many chanted long into the evening.
Aside from the capital, all the demonstrations took place in the predominately Shiite south -- the power base of many of Iraq's top political parties.
Influential clerics criticize government
Ayatollah Ali al Sistani Shiite followers walk past a poster of their most revered leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, after Friday prayers at the Buratha mosque in central Baghdad, Iraq Friday, March 4, 2005.
Earlier in the day, leading Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani used a Friday prayer sermon to call on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to take a tougher stand against corruption and name and shame those impeding reform.
Combined with tens of thousands of Shiite faithful willing to take to the streets, Sistani's calls for change pose a potentially serious challenge for the Shiite-led government.
In an attempt to assuage protesters, the prime minister has imposed planned electricity cuts on state institutions and government officials but Sistani has pressed for more.
"He must be more daring and courageous in his reforms," Ahmed al-Safi, a representative of the reclusive Sistani, said of the premier in a sermon delivered in the shrine city of Karbala.
"He should make the political parties accountable and identify who is hampering the march of reform, whoever they are," he added.
Rising discontent among ordinary Iraqis
When al-Abadi was named premier elect on Aug. 10 last year, he vowed to form a government based on efficiency and integrity.
However, protesters say that much of the country's domestic problems have been sidelined as a result of the war with the Islamic State group, and that senior government officials are turning a blind eye to Iraq's endemic challenges brought from years of sanctions, an invasion and occupation and a fractured society reeling from a low-level civil war.
That's created widespread discontent even among his government's natural power base and the educated class alike.
Fadel el-Khafaji, a self-described liberal who has a degree in engineering, says he sells women's clothing because he can't find a job in his field.
The problems, he said, include "unemployment, general finances, human rights, where are the proceeds from our oil wealth, where is an end to this war we are living through?" he asked. "The only solution is to dissolve the parliament and a restore presidential authority."
In a statement following al-Sistani's sermon, the prime minister's office said al-Abadi is "fully committed to the valued guidance of the supreme religious authority."
Shiite factions in Iraq turned against al-Abadi's predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, largely because they saw him as a domineering leader who monopolized power and allowed widespread corruption.
jar/bw (AP, AFP)