State of emergency in Baghdad as protests rise

Supporters (left) of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr cheering after breaking into Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone last Saturday. Mr Sadr (above) had earlier accused lawmakers of sectarianism in their selection of ministers and ordered his bloc
Supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr cheering after breaking into Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone last Saturday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Supporters (left) of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr cheering after breaking into Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone last Saturday. Mr Sadr (above) had earlier accused lawmakers of sectarianism in their selection of ministers and ordered his bloc
Mr Sadr (above) had earlier accused lawmakers of sectarianism in their selection of ministers and ordered his bloc to withdraw from the parliamentary session where members were preparing to finish voting on a new Cabinet.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Shi'ite cleric's supporters storm Parliament, Green Zone as PM Abadi's reform push stalls

BAGHDAD • Iraq has declared a state of emergency in Baghdad after hundreds of supporters of Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr breached the city's fortified Green Zone and stormed Parliament to protest against corruption and the country's political paralysis.

Cellphone video footage broadcast on Iraqi television showed Mr Sadr's supporters inside the legislature last Saturday. Mr Sadr earlier accused lawmakers of sectarianism in their selection of ministers and ordered his bloc to withdraw from the Parliament session where members were preparing to finish voting on a new Cabinet.

The initial breach was mostly peaceful, but security forces later fired tear gas and bullets into the air to stop more protesters from entering. Around a dozen people were wounded, police sources said.

Storming Parliament and the Green Zone, which houses ministries and foreign embassies, marks an escalation in a crisis that has undermined Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's reform push and stymied efforts to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants.

Mr Abadi's plan for a Cabinet of technocrats has so far failed as the various parties fight to preserve a system of patronage.

Protesters attacked at least one MP as well as cars they believed belonged to lawmakers, and broke into offices in Parliament. But others sought to contain the destruction, and many were content to take photographs of themselves in Parliament, with some sitting in seats usually occupied by lawmakers.

Mr Abadi's office said he had ordered the pursuit of people involved in attacks or vandalism, but security forces were not taking action against protesters inside the Green Zone yesterday.

The US embassy said it was monitoring the situation, adding that reports that embassy personnel are being evacuated are inaccurate.

"Under the Vienna Convention, all diplomatic missions are protected by the host country's security forces," it said. "We have full confidence that the Iraqi Security Forces will meet its obligations."

US officials, including President Barack Obama, have expressed concern that Iraq's leaders remain mired in sectarian divisions that may undermine the fight against the ISIS extremists.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq said it was "gravely concerned" by last Saturday's developments and urged political leaders to work together to restore security in the country.

"The mission condemns the use of violence, including against elected officials, and urges calm, restraint and respect for Iraq's constitutional institutions at this crucial juncture," it said in a statement.

Meanwhile, ISIS has claimed responsibility for two bomb blasts in the southern Iraqi city of Samawa that killed at least 33 people and wounded 75 yesterday.

"Two car bombs went off in town. The first one was around midday near a bus station," said a police officer in Muthanna province, of which Samawa is the capital.

"The other exploded about five minutes later, 400m from the spot of the first explosion."

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'State of emergency in Baghdad as protests rise'. Print Edition | Subscribe