Thousands of supporters of an influential Shia cleric stormed Iraq’s parliament on Saturday, the second time in a week, to protest government-forming efforts by Iran-backed groups.
Iraqi security forces initially used tear gas and sound bombs in an attempt to push back the protesters and left several injured as witnessed by Associated Press reporters. The Health Ministry said it had received 60 injured patients.
An expected parliamentary session did not take place and there were no lawmakers in the room.
Responding to pleas from the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, protesters used ropes to pull down cement barricades leading to the gate to Iraq’s Green Zone. The area is home to official buildings and foreign embassies.
The demonstrators then occupied the floor of parliament and displayed the Iraqi flag and portraits of al-Sadr. It was the second time in three days that the cleric had ordered his supporters to stage a sit-in in the Green Zone. The protests are a pressure tactic used by the cleric to derail government-forming efforts led by his political rivals in the Coalition Framework, an alliance of Shia parties backed by Iran.
Iraqi interim Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered security forces to protect protesters and asked them to keep their protest peaceful, a statement said. Inside the parliament building, security force defenses became less intense and many were seen seated and conversing with protesters.
Some protesters started moving from the parliament towards the Judicial Council building.
“We have come today to eliminate the corrupt political class and prevent them from holding a parliamentary session and to prevent the Cadre from forming a government,” 41-year-old Raad Thabet said. “We answered al-Sadr’s call.”
Al-Sadr’s party leaves the government formation talks in June, giving rivals in the Coordinating Framework alliance the majority they needed to push the process forward.
Many protesters wore black to mark the days leading up to Ashura, which commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and one of the most important figures in Shia Islam. Al-Sadr’s messages to his followers used this important day in Shia Islam to trigger protests.
Al-Sadr used his broad supporters as leverage against his rivals.
Hundreds of his supporters stormed the parliament building on Wednesday after the Framework alliance nominated Mohammed al-Sudani as its candidate for prime minister and signaled it was ready to form a government despite its threat.