Hundreds of Iraqis dance in the country's parliament amid protests

Hundreds of Iraqis dance and sing in the country’s parliament after storming Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone in protest

  • Police fired barrages of tear gas in a bid to stop the protesters from breaching the gates of the Green Zone
  • But protesters supporting Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr forced their way into government buildings
  • Sadr’s bloc emerged from October elections as the biggest parliamentary faction but still short of a majority
  • Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi called on the protesters to ‘immediately withdraw’ but he was ignored
  • Sadr himself had to encourage his own supporters to act peacefully to avoid clashes with law enforcement

Hundreds of supporters of powerful Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr danced and sang in parliament Wednesday after storming Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone in protest at a rival bloc’s nomination for prime minister.

Police fired barrages of tear gas in a bid to stop the protesters from breaching the gates of the heavily fortified Green Zone, but the crowds surged forward and entered parliament.

‘I am against the corrupt officials who are in power,’ said protester Mohamed Ali, a 41-year-old day labourer, one of the hundreds who entered the zone that is home to both government buildings and diplomatic missions, before later leaving peacefully.

The protests are the latest challenge for oil-rich Iraq, which remains mired in a political and a socioeconomic crisis despite soaring global energy prices.

Sadr’s bloc emerged from elections in October as the biggest parliamentary faction, but was still far short of a majority and, nine months on, deadlock persists over the establishment of a new government.

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the Sadrist movement, storm the so-called ‘Green Zone’ in central Baghdad, Iraq, 27 July 2022

Supporters of Sadrist Movement gather to stage a protest against the prime ministry candidacy of Mohammed al-Sudani, who was nominated by a coalition of Shia groups close to Iran

A supporter of the Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr, lies on the desk of the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, as demonstrators gather inside the Iraqi parliament in the capital Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone, as they protest at a rival bloc’s nomination for prime minister, on July 27, 2022

Sadr supporters are blasted with water cannons as they attempt to climb the walls surrounding the highly fortified green zone

Sadr supporters are pictured protesting against a premiership candidate announced by the Coordination Framework earlier this week. The Iraqi Prime Minister called on the demonstrators to withdraw

Iraq was plunged deeper into political crisis last month when Sadr’s parliamentary bloc quit en masse

Supporters of Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr gather inside Iraq’s parliament in Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone on Wednesday night

Iraqi security forces deploy as supporters of Sadr gather in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on July 27

Sadr supporters took vantage points and sat in lawmakers’ chairs before leaving parliament peacefully

Crowds wandered around the parliament building waving national flags, taking photographs, chanting and cheering.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi called on the protesters to ‘immediately withdraw’, warning that the security forces would ensure ‘the protection of state institutions and foreign missions, and prevent any harm to security and order’.

But it took orders issued by the Shiite leader Sadr before the crowds of protesters started to leave nearly two hours later.

‘Revolution of reform, and rejection of injustice and corruption,’ Sadr wrote on Twitter, in support of the protesters.

‘Your message has been heard… you have terrorised the corrupt’, he added, calling on the demonstrators to say a prayer ‘before returning home safe and sound’.

‘We obey the Sayyed,’ the crowds chanted as they calmly left parliament, a term honouring Sadr by acknowledging him as a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed.

Sadr’s bloc won 73 seats in last year’s election, making it the largest faction in the 329-seat parliament. But since the vote, talks to form a new government have stalled.

The protesters oppose the candidacy of Mohammed al-Sudani, a former minister and ex-provincial governor, who is the pro-Iran Coordination Framework’s pick for premier.

The Coordination Framework draws lawmakers from former premier Nuri al-Maliki’s party and the pro-Iran Fatah Alliance, the political arm of the Shiite-led former paramilitary group Hashed al-Shaabi.

‘I am against Sudani’s candidacy, because he is corrupt,’ added protester Mohamed Ali.

‘We reject the whole political process’, said Bashar, a protester in parliament, giving only his first name. ‘We want an independent person who serves the people’.

Iraq was plunged deeper into political crisis last month when Sadr’s 73 lawmakers quit en masse.

Sadr had initially supported the idea of a ‘majority government’ which would have sent his Shiite adversaries from the Coordination Framework into opposition.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi called on the protesters to ‘immediately withdraw’, warning that the security forces would ensure ‘the protection of state institutions and foreign missions, and prevent any harm to security and order’

‘We reject the whole political process’, said Bashar, a protester in parliament (not pictured), giving only his first name. ‘We want an independent person who serves the people’

Crowds wandered around the parliament building waving national flags, taking photographs, chanting and cheering, and broke into several government buildings

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the Sadrist movement, are seen hopping over demolished walls and into Baghdad’s Green Zone

Protesters loyal to popular Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (pictured on this poster) breached the heavily fortified Green Zone to show support for Sadr and protest the Coordination Framework’s proposed premiership candidate

A person holds a picture of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr inside a government building in Baghdad

Iraqi security forces stand guard as supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the Sadrist movement, attempt to storm the so-called ‘Green Zone’

The former militia leader then surprised many by compelling his lawmakers to resign, a move seen as seeking to pressure his rivals to fast-track the establishment of a government.

Sixty-four new lawmakers were sworn in later in June, making the pro-Iran bloc the largest in parliament.

Earlier this month, hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshippers loyal to Sadr attended a Friday prayer service in Baghdad, in a display of political might.

The huge turnout came despite scorching heat and the Shiite cleric not being there in person — an indication of his status as a political heavyweight, as well as a key religious authority.

The mercurial cleric’s sermon took aim at rivals from other Shiite factions.

‘We are at a difficult… crossroads in the formation of the government, entrusted to some we do not trust,’ Sadr said in the speech on July 15, read out by Sheikh Mahmud al-Jayashi.

Sadr’s sermon took particular aim at the Hashed al-Shaabi, which has been integrated into the army, but is seen by many Iraqis as an Iranian proxy.

Hashed supporters last year protested near the Green Zone, demonstrating against what they said was vote ‘fraud’.

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