Thousands of followers of a powerful Shiite cleric infiltrated Iraq’s parliament on Saturday, for the second time in a week, to protest government formation efforts led by Iran-backed groups.
Iraqi security forces initially used tear gas and stun grenades in an attempt to repel protesters, causing many of the injuries witnessed by Associated Press journalists. The Ministry of Health said it had received 60 injured people.
The expected parliament session was not held and there were no deputies in the hall.
In response to the calls of the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the demonstrators used ropes to demolish the concrete barriers leading to the gate of the Green Zone in Iraq. The neighborhood houses official buildings and foreign embassies.
Then the demonstrators occupied the parliament hall and raised the Iraqi flag and pictures of Al-Sadr. This is the second time in three days that the cleric has ordered his followers to sit in the Green Zone. The protests are a pressure tactic used by the cleric to block government formation efforts led by his political opponents under the Alliance, an alliance of Iran-backed Shiite parties.
Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi directed security forces to protect protesters and asked them to keep their protest peaceful, according to a statement. Inside the parliament building, the defenses of the security forces became less intense, and many were seen sitting and talking to protesters.
Some protesters began to move from Parliament towards the Judicial Council building.
Raad Thabet, 41, said, “We came today to remove the corrupt political class and prevent it from holding a parliamentary session, and to prevent the framework from forming a government. We have responded to al-Sadr’s call.”
Sadr’s party left the government Talks formed in June, giving rivals in the Coordination Framework coalition the majority they needed to move the process forward.
Many protesters wore black to mark the days leading up to Ashura, which commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and one of the most important figures in Shiite Islam. Al-Sadr’s messages to his followers took advantage of the important day in Shiite Islam to ignite protests.
Al-Sadr used his large grassroots base as leverage against his rivals.
On Wednesday, hundreds of his followers stormed the parliament building after the Framework Alliance appointed Muhammad al-Sudani as its candidate for prime minister and expressed his willingness to form a government despite his threats.
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