Sadrist protesters leave Iraqi parliament building after hours of protests
BAGHDAD – Anadolu Agency
REUTERS photoHundreds of supporters of the Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr left the heavily guarded parliament building in the Iraqi capital early May 1, hours after storming the parliament building when lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government.
Muhammed Abduzzehra, a protester, said they had left the parliament building without damaging any public or private properties.
“Abiding by the decision from the committee that inspects protests, we have moved towards the festival area in the Green Zone,” Abduzzehra said.
He said the protest would continue until a “government purified of political influence” was formed.
The protesters, who had gathered outside the heavily fortified central district known as the Green Zone, crossed a bridge over the Tigris River April 30 chanting, “The cowards ran away!” in apparent reference to departing lawmakers.
The initial hours were 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, according to Reuters.
All entrances of Baghdad were temporarily shut “as a precautionary measure to maintain the capital’s security,” a security official said.
The capital was already on high alert for a major Shiite pilgrimage, participants of which were targeted in a bombing that killed 23 on April 30, but extra security measures were taken after protesters stormed the Green Zone, which houses many government buildings and foreign embassies.
Some six hours after the Green Zone was stormed, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a statement claiming the situation in Baghdad was “under the control of the security forces” and urging protesters to return to “designated protest areas,” AFP reported.
Parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi, meanwhile, issued a statement that referred to the country’s MPs as “representatives of the people, and their servants” – an opinion with which many Iraqis would disagree.
Meanwhile, Abadi’s office said the PM had ordered that rioters be pursued, but security forces were not taking action against those inside the Green Zone on May 1, according to AFP.
Abadi “directed the interior minister to pursue the elements who attacked the security forces and citizens and members of parliament and vandalised state properties and to refer them to the judiciary to receive their just punishment,” a statement said.