BAGHDAD: Supporters of powerful Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr stormed Baghdad’s heavily fortified “Green Zone” and occupied parliament on Saturday amid a deepening political crisis.
It is the second time in a few days that Sadr’s supporters have stormed the legislative chamber, months after elections that failed to form a government.
Protesters waved Iraqi flags and pictures of a cleric in parliament, an AFP photographer said.
They entered after thousands of protesters gathered at the end of the bridge leading to the Green Zone, before dozens tore down the concrete barriers protecting it and fled inside, the photographer reported.
Security forces fired tear gas near the entrance to the district, which houses foreign embassies and other government buildings, as well as the parliament.
Some protesters on the bridge were injured and carried away by their fellow demonstrators.
“All the people are with you, Sayyed Moqtada,” chanted the protesters, using his title as a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.
Sadr’s bloc emerged as the largest parliamentary faction in October’s elections, but was still far from a majority and 10 months later, the formation of a new government is deadlocked.
Supporters of the populist Shiite cleric oppose the recently announced candidacy of Mohamed al-Sudani, a former minister and former provincial governor who is the pro-Iranian Coordination Framework’s pick for prime minister.
The protests are the latest challenge for oil-rich Iraq, which is still mired in a political and socio-economic crisis despite high global crude prices.
Saturday’s demonstrations came three days after crowds of Sadr supporters stormed the Green Zone despite police firing tear gas.
They occupied the parliament building, singing, dancing and taking selfies before leaving two hours later, but only after Sadr told them to leave.
On Saturday, security forces blocked roads in the capital leading to the green zone with massive concrete blocks.
Prosadr’s protesters stormed the parliament in Iraq’s Green Zone
“We are here for the revolution,” said protester Haydar al-Lami.
“We don’t want the corrupt; we don’t want the return of those who were in power… since 2003 they have only brought us harm.”
According to the agreement, the post of prime minister goes to a leader from the Shiite majority in Iraq.
Sadr, a former militia leader, initially supported the idea of a majority government.
This would send his Shiite opponents from the pro-Iranian coordination framework into opposition.
The reconciliation framework brings together lawmakers from former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s party and the pro-Iranian Fatah alliance, the political wing of the former Shiite-led paramilitary group Hashed al-Shabaab.
But last month, Sadr’s 73 MPs resigned in a move seen as an attempt to pressure his rivals to speed up the formation of a government.
Sixty-four new MPs were sworn in later in June, making the pro-Iran bloc the largest in parliament.
This sparked fury from Sadr’s supporters, who looted the Baghdad office of Maliki’s Daawa party on Friday night, according to a security source, as well as the office of the Hikma Ammar al-Hakim movement, which is part of the Coordination Framework.
“We would like them to wait until the government is formed, to assess its performance, to give it a chance and challenge it if it is not,” Hakim said in a recent interview with BBC Arabic.
“The sadistic movement has a problem with the idea that a coordination framework will form a government,” he said.
“If it doesn’t turn out to be Sudanese and a second or third candidate is nominated, they will still object,” he said.
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