Thousands of protesters storm Iraq’s parliament for second time in a week

BAGHDAD — Dozens of people were injured when protesters violated the Iraqi Parliament for the second time in a week.

The country’s health ministry said 100 civilians and 25 security personnel were injured after protesters stormed Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and embassies, and surrounded it in the four directions.

The protesters, largely made up of supporters of the influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadrwere demonstrating against efforts to form a new government led by Iranian-backed groups.

After using ropes to pull down towering concrete walls, protesters were met by riot units who deployed hot water, tear gas and pepper spray against them.

Protesters try to remove the concrete barriers and cross the bridge to the green zone
Protesters attempt to remove concrete barriers to cross the bridge to the Green Zone in Baghdad on Saturday.Ali Abdul Hassan/AP

Other protesters were seen marching towards the Federal Court and the Supreme Judicial Council building.

A previously scheduled parliamentary session was canceled on Thursday and no lawmakers were present in the building.

Acting Prime Minister of the country, Mustafa al-Kadhimordered the security forces to protect the demonstrators and asked them to keep the demonstration peaceful.

“I call on everyone to be calm, patient and rational, and not to get drawn into confrontation, and I call on citizens not to clash with security forces and to respect state institutions. “, he said in a statement.

Crowds gathered after calls from al-Sadr to protest the nomination of Mohammed Shiya al-Sudani as the official candidate for prime minister by the Coordinating Framework, an Iran-backed alliance of Shia parties.

Image: TOPSHOT-IRAQ-POLITICS-PROTEST
A man holds a national flag as he protests outside Iraq’s parliament in Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone on Saturday.Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images

Al-Sadr, who recently withdrew from the political process despite winning the most seats in October’s federal election, said on Wednesday politicians could not choose a prime minister or government without involving him. and get his approval.

He walked out of government formation talks after months of deadlock, when he was unable to secure enough lawmakers to reach the majority required to elect the next president.

The parties must first select a president before the current candidate, al-Sudani, can face parliament to be officially nominated as the next leader.

Leaders of the Coordination Framework replaced al-Sadr’s lawmakers after he left and pressed to form the new government.

In his statement, Al-Kadhimi said that “political blocs must sit down, negotiate and understand for the good of Iraq and Iraqis, and the language of betrayal and exclusion must be avoided, and a high and global patriotic spirit should be displayed.

Many fear this has sparked the protests organized by al-Sadr’s broad supporters and the current instability. The incendiary cleric is a fierce critic of Iran and the United States, and was once the poster child for violent resistance against the US-led invasion of Iraq

Al-Sadr is also blamed for the massacres of Sunni civilians in sectarian violence that peaked in Iraq in 2006 and 2007.

The Pentagon once said that the Mahdi Army, formed by al-Sadr in 2003 after the fall of by Saddam Hussein regime, had “replaced al-Qaeda in Iraq as the most dangerous accelerator of potentially self-perpetuating sectarian violence”.

In 2016, al-Sadr supporters similarly stormed parliament. They staged a sit-in and launched demands for political reform after Haidar al-Abadi, who was then prime minister, sought to replace party-affiliated ministers with technocrats in an anti-corruption campaign.

Khalid Razak reported from Baghdad and Mithil Aggarwal from Hong Kong.

Associated press contributed.

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