Thousands of Shiites Protest in Downtown Baghdad
It wasn’t in the headlines in US media because of the violence in Fallujah, but several thousand angry Shiites demonstrated in downtown Baghdad on Wednesday, protesting the closure of the al-Hawzah newspaper of Muqtada al-Sadr by the Coalition Provisional Authority. The young radical cleric, Muqtada, has only occasionally in the past been able to stage demonstrations of that size; sometimes only a few hundred come out when he calls for rallies.
Such protests can either peter out over time, or they can grow to dangerous proportions. I think it is fair to say that closing the newspaper was an unpopular move among most Iraqis, for whom it seemed redolent of Saddam’s techniques. Even secular journalists protested the move.
Mohamed Bazzi argued that the closure of his newspaper would give Muqtada new prominence and visibility after several months in which he had been increasingly eclipsed by Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Bazzi thinks that Muqtada had been losing popularity, even in the slums of Sadr City in East Baghdad, but that religious Shiites are unanimous in condemning the closing down of al-Hawzah.
Bazzi’s analysis seems borne out by Muqtada’s ability to get out several thousand protesters on Wednesday.