Security forces shut down Baghdad to prevent Green Zone protests
BAGHDAD – ReutersIraqi security forces ramped up their presence across Baghdad on May 6, blocking most major roads and bridges to keep followers of Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr from reaching the government district they stormed a week earlier.
A Sadr representative, meanwhile, called on supporters to rally outside local mosques following afternoon prayers, rather than gathering near the heavily fortified Green Zone, a move which could reduce the risk of clashes.
The demonstrations are aimed at pressuring Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to follow through on months-old promises to replace party-affiliated ministers with independent technocrats as part of an anti-corruption drive.
Ibrahim al-Jabiri, an official from protest organizing cleric Sadr’s office in east Baghdad, claimed the demonstrators were giving parliament a chance to meet again.
“We are waiting for a session of parliament, and this is a chance that we gave to the government,” he told AFP.
The head of Sadr’s political office told Reuters that large-scale demonstrations had been postponed until May 10, when tens of thousands of protesters would be mobilized to rally outside an expected parliament session.
Iraq has endured months of wrangling over the proposal, with a divided parliament withholding approval amid scuffles and protests. Deep frustration among Iraqis over the deadlock culminated on May 1 in the unprecedented breach of the Green Zone, which houses parliament, government offices and many foreign embassies.
Security officials said three regiments from an elite police division that has battled the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants were deployed in and around the Green Zone.
On one bridge stretching over the Tigris River, dozens of counter-terrorism forces manned Humvees mounted with machine guns. They stood behind two consecutive barriers made of 3.6 meter blast walls spanning the bridge.
At least four soldiers were killed and seven others wounded on May 6 when a suicide car bomber attacked an army checkpoint in the western part of the capital, police sources said. Two bombs in nearby Abu Ghraib killed three people and wounded 13. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts.