Hundreds of followers of an influential Shiite cleric breached Iraq’s parliament on Saturday, the second time in a week, to protest the government formation efforts lead by Iran-backed groups.
Iraqi security forces used tear gas and sound bombs to try to repel the demonstrators and caused several injuries witnessed by journalists for The Associated Press. An expected parliament session did not take place and there were no lawmakers in the hall.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi directed security forces to protect demonstrators and asked them to keep their protest peaceful, according to a statement.
Thousands of demonstrators, the followers of influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, used ropes to pull down cement barricades leading to the gate of Iraq’s Green Zone, which houses official buildings and foreign embassies.
They were heeding al-Sadr’s call to protest the formation of the next government lead by the Coalition Framework, an alliance of Shiite parties backed by Iran.
“We came today to remove the corrupt political class and prevent them from holding a parliament session, and to prevent the Framework from forming a government,” said Raad Thabet, 41. “We responded to al-Sadr’s call. We will go to the Green (Zone). No matter the cost.”
Al-Sadr’s party exited government formation talks in June, giving his rivals in the Coordination Framework alliance the majority they needed to move forward with the process.
Many protesters wore black to mark the days leading to Ashura, which commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohamed and one of Shiite Islam’s most important figures. Al-Sadr’s messaging to his followers has used the important day in Shiite Islam to kindle protests.
Al-Sadr has used his large grassroots following as leverage against his rivals.
On Wednesday, hundreds of his followers stormed the parliament building after the Framework alliance named Mohammed al-Sudani as their nominee for the premiership and signaled their readiness to form a government despite his threats.