Entrances to Baghdad sealed amid budget protests

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Security forces on Tuesday sealed entrances to Baghdad, set up checkpoints and searched cars during a protest to demand the approval of Iraq’s state budget, an interior ministry official said.

The security measures were to “prevent the entrance of strangers and to control the security situation,” the official said, adding there was a sit-in by supporters of powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Tahrir Square in central Baghdad calling for parliament to pass the budget.

Votes on the 2013 budget have been repeatedly postponed.

Witnesses reported demonstrations in other parts of the city as well.

It was not immediately clear if the additional security measures, which the ministry official said have caused heavy traffic jams across the city, were aimed at preventing people from joining the protests, or guarding them against attack.

Iraq already marred by high deficit is losing almost $27 million per day because of a budget delay, a member of the Shiite-dominated National alliance coalition said in a press conference on Saturday.

“The National alliance coalition is insisting to issue Iraq’s budget as soon as possible,” the Iraqi news website Al-Sumaria reported the Chairman of the parliamentary Finance Committee, Haider Abadi saying.

The secular yet Sunni-backed Iraqiya list and the Kurdistan coalition have both rejected the current budget proposal.

In addition to this, disagreement over payment to oil companies operating in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, the Iraqiya list still demands money that has been allocated to the Defense Ministry to be funneled through to the budget of other provinces.

Iraq’s budget deficit is expected to fall to $4 billion at end-2014 from $12 billion that was planned for 2012, as the country benefits from increased oil proceeds.

Iraq sits on $143.1 billion barrels of proven oil revenues and 126.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

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