Hundreds of supporters of Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr stormed parliament inside Baghdad’s Green Zone on Saturday and camped out nearby after Sadr denounced politicians’ failure to reform a political quota system blamed for rampant corruption.
The protesters, who had gathered outside the heavily fortified central district housing government buildings and many foreign embassies, crossed a bridge over the Tigris River chanting: “The cowards ran away!” in apparent reference to departing lawmakers.
The initial breach was mostly peaceful, but around sunset security forces fired teargas and bullets into the air in an effort to stop more protesters from entering. Around a dozen people were wounded, police sources said.
A United Nations spokesman and Western diplomats said their compounds inside the Green Zone were locked down. A U.S. embassy spokesman denied reports of evacuation.
Iraqi security personnel and Sadr’s militiamen formed a joint force to control crowds of protesters, most of whom had left parliament, a source in Sadr’s office told Reuters.
All entrances of Baghdad were temporarily shut “as a precautionary measure to maintain the capital’s security,” another security official said.
As night fell, demonstrators set up tents at a nearby parade ground under triumphal arches made from crossed swords held by hands modelled on those of Saddam Hussein, who was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has warned that the months-long political crisis prompted by his efforts to overhaul the cabinet could hamper the war against Islamic State, which controls vast swathes of northern and western Iraq.