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Baghdad In Crisis As Protesters Storm Presidential Palace

Followers of Iraq’s powerful Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who said earlier on Monday that he was withdrawing from politics amid a government and parliamentary impasse, have stormed the presidential palace in Baghdad by the hundreds, heightening the political uncertainty in OPEC’s second-biggest oil producer. 

Sadr announced his withdrawal from politics on Twitter, blaming fellow Shiite politicians for failing to cooperate and form a government. 

This isn’t the first time that Sadr has announced he was quitting politics, so it’s uncertain how long the withdrawal will last this time. 

However, this time, hundreds of his followers stormed the Republican Palace in Baghdad, using ropes to move cement barriers in front of the palace gates. So far, the palace storming has prompted the implementation of a city-wide curfew by the Iraqi military. 

This is the third time in two months that al-Sadr’s followers have stormed parliament, intent on hindering the Shi’ite cleric’s rivals–particularly those supporters of former prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki, from forming a ‘pro-Iranian’ government.

Sadr’s bloc was the biggest winner of the parliamentary election in Iraq last October but failed to form a government. Sadr asked the MPs from the Sadrist bloc to resign from Parliament in June over the protracted deadlock about the forming of a new government. 

After that, Sadr supporters stormed the Iraqi Parliament in protest against a nomination for prime minister from a rival bloc. 

Sadr’s latest political stunt – quitting Iraqi politics – could raise the uncertainty and lead to instability in Iraq, which is OPEC’s second-largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia.  

In July, Iraq pumped 4.496 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil, up by 30,000 bpd compared to June, according to secondary sources in OPEC’s Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR). 

According to the OPEC+ deal, Iraq was behind its target in the pact by around 85,000 bpd. Under the OPEC+ agreement, Iraq’s crude oil production target for July was 4.580 million bpd. The target for August for Iraq is at 4.651 million bpd, or 71,000 bpd higher than in July, as OPEC+ is currently rolling back all the May 2020 cuts by the end of this month. Iraq’s September target is slightly higher at 4.663 million bpd after OPEC+ decided early this month to raise the collective target by a small amount, just 100,000 bpd. 

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However, speculation has abounded over the past week about whether OPEC+ could discuss new production cuts to respond to a “schizophrenic” oil market, as Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, put it. 

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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