Hundreds of supporters of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr danced and sang in parliament after storming the heavily-guarded Green Zone in Baghdad to protest against a rival bloc’s nomination for prime minister.
Police fired a barrage of tear gas in an attempt to prevent protesters from breaching the heavily fortified Green Zone gates, but the crowds advanced forward and entered Parliament.
“I am against the corrupt officials who are in power,” said protester Muhammad Ali, 41, a day laborer, one of hundreds who entered the area, which houses government buildings and diplomatic missions, before leaving peacefully later. .
The protests are the latest challenge facing oil-rich Iraq, which remains mired in a political and socio-economic crisis despite rising global energy prices.
The chest block came out of Elections in October As the largest parliamentary faction, it remains well below the majority, and nine months later, deadlock remains over the formation of a new government.
Crowds roamed around the parliament building, waving national flags and posing for pictures, cheering and chanting.
The Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kazemi, called on the demonstrators to “immediately withdraw”, warning that the security services would “ensure the protection of state institutions and foreign missions, and prevent any prejudice to security and order.”
But she took orders from Shiite leader al-Sadr Before the crowds of protesters began to leave about two hours later.
Al-Sadr wrote on Twitter, “Revolution of reform and rejection of injustice and corruption” in support of the demonstrators.
He added, “Your message has been heard… you have terrorized the corrupt,” calling on the demonstrators to pray “before returning home safely.”
“We obey the master,” the crowd quietly chanted as they left parliament, a term honoring Sadr by being recognized as a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.
Sadr’s bloc won 73 seats in last year’s elections, making it the largest faction in the 329-seat parliament. But since the vote, talks to form a new government have faltered.
Demonstrators oppose the candidacy of Mohamed Al-Sudani, a former minister and former governor of the province, who was chosen by the pro-Iran coordination framework for the post of prime minister.
The coordination framework attracts lawmakers from the party of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the pro-Iranian Fatah Alliance, and the political arm of the former Shiite-led Popular Mobilization Forces.
“I am against Al-Sudani’s candidacy because he is corrupt,” protester Mohamed Ali added.
“We reject the entire political process,” said Bashar, a protester in parliament, naming only his first name. We want an independent person who serves the people.
Iraq plunged into its deepest political crisis last month when 73 deputies from al-Sadr resigned en masse.
Al-Sadr had initially supported the idea of a “majority government” that would send his Shiite opponents out of the coordination framework into the opposition.
The former militia leader then surprised many by forcing his deputies to resign, a move seen as seeking to pressure his opponents to speed up the formation of the government.
64 new deputies were sworn in later in June, making the pro-Iranian bloc the largest in parliament.
Earlier this month, hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshipers loyal to Sadr attended Friday prayers in Baghdad, in a show of political power.
The huge turnout came despite the intense heat and the lack of the Shiite cleric in person – an indication of his status as a heavy political leader, as well as a major religious authority.
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