Iraq state of emergency as protesters camp outside parliament

Hundreds of people protest at failure of Iraqi MPs to convene to approve new ministers

Hundreds of supporters of a powerful Shia Muslim cleric camped outside parliament in Baghdad overnight a day after thousands stormed the Green Zone and entered the parliament building, prompting the declaration of a state of emergency.

Hundreds of people gathered in protest at the failure of Iraqi MPs to convene for a vote to approve new ministers. The unrest comes after weeks of political turmoil in Baghdad over efforts by the prime minister Haider al-Abadi, to replace party-affiliated ministers with technocrats. MPs failed to reach a quorum to approve the measures on Saturday.

On Saturday the protesters broke into the area Green Zone, home to embassies and government buildings after crossing a bridge over the Tigris river chanting: “The cowards ran away.”

There are reports that Security forces used tear gas and fired warning shots but there were not significant clashes. Around a dozen people were wounded, police sources said.


The protestors are Supporters of Moqtada Sadr and want a new government.

A United Nations spokesman and Western diplomats based inside the Green Zone said their compounds were locked down. A US embassy spokesman denied reports of evacuation.

Iraqi security personnel and Mr Sadr’s militiamen formed a joint force to control protesters’ movement, according to a source in Mr Sadr’s office. Most protesters had evacuated parliament and some were preparing for a sit-in in its courtyard, he added.

All entrances of Baghdad have been shut “as a precautionary measure to maintain the capital’s security,” another security official said.

Mr Abadi has warned 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.

Earlier in the day, the ultra-hardline Sunni militants claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack against a gathering of Shia pilgrims in the southeastern Baghdad suburb of Nahrawan, killing 19 people and wounding 48 others.

Sharqiya TV showed Mr Abadi walking inside the Green Zone with dozens of armed guards following the breach, discrediting reports he had fled. He called on protesters to return to areas set aside for demonstrations and not to infringe on public property.

Such a breach is unprecedented, though only a few years ago mortars frequently rained down on the 10-square-kilometre Green Zone, which once housed the headquarters of the US occupation and before that a palace belonging to Saddam Hussein.

Checkpoints and concrete barriers have blocked bridges and highways leading to the neighbourhood for years, symbolising the isolation of Iraq’s leadership from its people.

Videos showed protesters on Saturday attacking a white, armoured SUV with sticks and beating a man in a grey suit.

The source in Mr Sadr’s office said a Sadrist MP had escorted out several deputies, the last to leave parliament, in his motorcade.

On Saturday Rudaw TV showed protestors inside the parliament chanting and taking pictures of themselves inside the main chamber where moments earlier lawmakers had met.

Parliament failed to reach quorum earlier on Saturday to complete voting on a cabinet reshuffle proposed by Mr Abadi. A handful of ministers were approved on Tuesday despite disruptions by dissenting lawmakers.

Political parties have resisted Mr Abadi’s efforts to replace some ministers - chosen to balance Iraq’s divisions along party, ethnic and sectarian lines - with technocrats in order to combat corruption.

Supporters of Mr Sadr, whose fighters once ran swathes of Baghdad and helped defend the capital from Islamic State in 2014, have been demonstrating in Baghdad for weeks, responding to their leader's call to put pressure on Mr Abadi to follow through on months-old reform promises.