Al-Sadr supporters storm parliament as unrest grows over Iraqi leadership
Hundreds of protesters climbed over the blast walls surrounding Baghdad's highly-fortified Green Zone for the first time yesterday and stormed into parliament, carrying Iraqi flags and chanting against the government.
The breach marked a major escalation in the country's political crisis following months of anti-government protests, sit-ins and demonstrations by supporters of influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The Green Zone is home to most ministries and foreign embassies and has long been the focus of Al-Sadr's criticism of the government.
Earlier yesterday, Al-Sadr accused Iraqi politicians of blocking political reforms aimed at combating corruption and waste.
While Al-Sadr didn't call for an escalation to the protests, shortly after his remarks his supporters began scaling the compound's walls.
A group of young men then pulled down a section of concrete blast walls to cheers from the crowd of thousands gathered in the streets outside.
Cellphone video uploaded to social media showed dozens of young men running through the halls of parliament, chanting slogans in support of Al-Sadr and calling for the government to disband.
"We are all with you Al-Sadr," one group of men yelled as they forced their way into the parliament building's main chamber.
Increasingly tense protests and a series of failed reform measures have paralysed Iraq's government as the country struggles to fight the Islamic State group and respond to an economic crisis sparked in part by a plunge in global oil prices.
A broad-based protest movement last summer mobilised millions and pressured Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to submit a proposal to reduce the size of the Cabinet and replace political appointees with independent technocrats.
But that proposal has been stalled in the face of Iraq's entrenched political blocs, and in recent months Al-Sadr's movement has come to monopolise the protests.
Earlier yesterday, a bombing in a market filled with Shia civilians in Baghdad killed at least 21 people and wounded at least 42 others, according to police and hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk with reporters.
Islamic State terrorists claimed the attack, saying it used a three-ton truck bomb. The extremist group regularly carries out attacks targeting the security forces and the country's Shia majority.