Iraq PM sacks commander after Green Zone breach

Protesters are expected to protest on Friday and may attempt to re-enter the Green Zone, home to Iraq's main government institutions

Ismaeel Naar

Published: Updated:

Iraq's prime minister has sacked the commander of special forces in Baghdad's Green Zone after protesters breached the fortified area over the past week, a military statement said late on Wednesday.

The removal of Staff Lieutenant General Mohammed Ridha is being seen as an indication of tightening security as authorities plan on taking a harder line against planned protesters over the weekend.

Iraqi analyst Taif Jany told Al Arabiya English that angry protesters, most of them supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, broke into the Green Zone and stormed parliament on Saturday in an unprecedented security breach after years of frustration with the political elite.

“The fortifications reinforce a literal barrier between Parliament and the people. Not only is the government's business conducted without our input, but we are also cut off by razor wire, guards, and enormous concrete fences,” Jany, Program Manager at Education for Peace in Iraq Center, told Al Arabiya English.

Iraqi premier Haider al-Abadi issued commander Ridha’s relief order and replaced him with Maj. Gen. Karim Aboud al-Tamimi, according to a statement from Iraq's Joint Operations Command.

Warning signs

Ridha was seen kissing Sadr's hand when he entered the heavily fortified Green Zone in late March during a sit-in organized by the cleric, who has demanded the government carry out reforms.

Demonstrators are expected to protest on Friday and may attempt to re-enter the Green Zone, which is home to Iraq's main government institutions as well as various embassies, including those of the United States and Britain.

Angry protesters broke into the area after lawmakers again failed to approve new ministers proposed by Abadi.

Abadi has called for the current cabinet of party-affiliated ministers to be replaced by a government of technocrats. But his efforts have been opposed by powerful political parties that rely on control of ministries for patronage and funds.

Jany, the Iraqi analyst, told Al Arabiya English that the green zone has become a point of contention and the next couple of days are likely to see more protesters returning to the area.

“The Green Zone contains the homes of Members of Parliament and high-ranking officials and this represents a significant class difference which begs the question: how can you represent us if you don't live among us?,” he asked.

On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for those who want reforms to “respect the law.”

While another demonstration is planned for Friday and protesters may attempt to enter the Green Zone again, the premier has hinted that security forces may take a harder line if they do so.

“Those who want reform must respect the law,” Abadi said in televised remarks.

(With AFP)