Protesters start sit-in demo in Iraq’s Green Zone
An emergency state was declared in Baghdad after Sadr's supporters stormed the Green Zone and some entered the parliament building
Iraqi protesters, most of them supporters of powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, started on Saturday a sit-in demonstration in Ihtifalat Square, located in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone after they stormed the parliament.
An AFP photographer said the protesters were leaving the parliament building they stormed earlier in the day.
Members of the Sadrist militia group Saraya al-Salam could be 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.
An emergency state was declared in Baghdad after hundreds of Sadr's supporters stormed the Green Zone and some entered the parliament building. The protesters stormed the parliament after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government.
Iraqi security forces fired tear gas at one entrance of the zone but appeared to be largely standing down as protesters marched through the area, chanting and waving Iraqi flags. Hundreds were still pouring into the Green Zone as night fell.
The protesters, who had gathered outside the heavily fortified district housing government buildings and 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.
A guard at a checkpoint said the protesters had not been searched before entering. TV footage showed them waving Iraqi flags and chanting “Peaceful, peaceful!.” Some were standing on top of concrete blast walls that form the outer barrier to the Green Zone.
The protestors, many of whom were seen waving Iraq's national flag, were responding to calls made by Sadr.
This week, lawmakers again failed to approve new cabinet ministers. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had been seeking to replace the previous cabinet, which had been marred by allegations of corruption and patronage.
In a press conference Sadr denounced Iraqi political circles who are obstructing Abadi’s reforms that would see current ministers replaced by technocrats with no party affiliation to tackle systemic political patronage that has enabled bribery and embezzlement. Sadr also called for a one-million man “peaceful” demonstration.
“The political sides want to suppress the reform movement,” he said, describing the “reform movement as having only the interest of people in its core.”
He added: “[The reform movement] is for God, the will of people and Sadr has zero interest in it.”
Instead those who are trying to cling to the status quo are those who want to keep the “quota system” to keep “their interests intact,” he said.
Observers have criticized Iraq’s quota system, which divides power between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. The quota which keeps the presidency post for a Kurd and the premiership for a Shiite are blamed for political corruption, and weakening the state and its army.
Sadr is so far the main Iraqi political figure, who is lending his weight to push for Abadi’s reforms, stressed that the reform movement’s protests “will continue to be peaceful.”
Last Friday, Sadr warned political party leaders that they would face street protests if they obstruct Abadi’s government overhaul to fight corruption.
“You are not staying here! This is your last day in the Green Zone,” shouted one protester as thousands broke into the fortified area in central Baghdad.
EU condemns Iraq parliament protest
EU foreign affairs commissioner Federica Mogherini on Saturday criticized the storming of the Iraqi parliament by protesters as potentially destabilizing the country.
“The reported attack today on the Iraqi Parliament and the violent protests in Baghdad risk to further destabilise an already tense situation,” Mogherini said.
“It appears a deliberate disruption of the democratic process. A rapid restoration of order is in the interest of the Iraqi people, who have been suffering for too long for the lack of stability in their country, and is in the interest of all the region, confronted by many threats.”
“It’s crucial that all Iraqis and all the regional and international actors contribute to build a cooperative environment and a democratic, inclusive political process to stabilize the country,” Mogherini concluded.
(With Reuters, AFP)
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