Hundreds of Sadr supporters storm Baghdad's Green Zone, enter parliament

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 30.04.2016 15:46
Updated 30.04.2016 20:39
Followers of Iraq's Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen at the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. (Reuters Photo)
Followers of Iraq's Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen at the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. (Reuters Photo)

Supporters of prominent Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr stormed Baghdad's Green Zone on Saturday before forcing their way into the parliament building where they broke windows and smashed furniture.

Pro-Sadr demonstrators overran barriers set up around the heavily-fortified Green Zone, which houses a number of vital Iraqi state institutions and foreign diplomatic missions.

However after several hours, the protesters, started leaving the parliament building they stormed earlier on Saturday, an AFP photographer reported.

Members of the Sadrist militia group Saraya al-Salam were seen ordering protesters to move out of the compound, some six hours after they broke into the fortified Green Zone area where the government is headquartered.

Speaking at a press conference in the city of Najaf (located some 160 kilometers south of Baghdad), al-Sadr voiced his rejection of what he described as "a political system that fails to take the popular will into account".

He also announced the suspension of the activities of his "Ahrar" political bloc, which holds 34 seats in parliament, asserting that Ahrar MPs would refrain from participating in upcoming assembly sessions.

Corrupt officials, he declared, "are still preventing the reform of Iraq's government. Cabinet ministers… do not represent us; they represent the government".

Al-Sadr added: "There are enormous pressures on [Prime Minister Haidar] al-abadi by certain sectarian forces. We want to get rid of them [i.e., sectarian forces] and leave the final word to the people."

The protesters, who had gathered outside the heavily fortified district housing government buildings and many foreign embassies, crossed a bridge over the Tigris River chanting, "The cowards ran away!" in apparent reference to lawmakers leaving parliament, one of the witnesses said to Reuters.

A guard at a checkpoint said the protesters had not been searched before entering. About ten members of the armed group loyal to Sadr were checking protesters cursorily as government security forces who usually conduct careful searches with bomb-sniffing dogs stood by the side, the witness said.

The protesters waved Iraqi flags and chanted "Peaceful, peaceful!". Some were standing on top of concrete blast walls that form the outer barrier to the Green Zone. Thousands more remained at the gates of the district.

Supporters of Sadr, whose fighters once controlled swathes of Baghdad and helped defend the capital from Daesh, have been demonstrating for weeks at the gates of the Green Zone, responding to their leader's call to pressure the government to reform.

Abadi wants to replace some ministers - chosen to balance Iraq's divisions along party, ethnic and sectarian lines - with technocrats in order to combat corruption; but political parties have resisted the changes. Abadi has warned that any delay to the vote could hamper the war against Daesh, which controls vast swathes of northern and western Iraq.

Rudaw TV showed protesters chanting and taking selfies inside the parliament chamber where moments earlier lawmakers had been meeting.

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