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Supporters of radical cleric al-Sadr storm Green Zone

Al-Sadr supporters turned protesters stormed Iraq’s heavily fortified Green Zone on Saturday and later stormed into parliament. Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have been holding demonstrations and sit-ins for months to demand an overhaul of Iraq’s corrupt and ineffective political system, but Saturday was the first time they broke into the Green Zone, home to most government ministries and foreign embassies.

Iraq has been mired in a political crisis for months, hindering the government’s ability to combat the Islamic State group — which still controls much of the country’s north and west — or address a financial crisis largely caused by the plunge in global oil prices. Al-Sadr and his supporters want to reform the political system put in place following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, in which entrenched political blocs representing the country’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds rely on patronage, resulting in widespread corruption and poor public services.

Video from inside the building showed jubilant crowds waving Iraqi flags and shouting “peaceful, peaceful.” The were no immediate reports of major violence. Parliament is not currently in session. Supporters of Sadr, whose fighters once controlled swaths of Baghdad and helped defend the capital from ISIS, have been demonstrating for weeks at the gates of the Green Zone, responding to their leader’s call to pressure the government to reform.  The American Embassy in Baghdad was not being evacuated, contrary to local reports.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said later Saturday that the security situation in Baghdad was “under control” and asked demonstrators to return to designated protest areas.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq said it was “gravely concerned” by Saturday’s developments. “The Mission condemns the use of violence, including against elected officials, and urges calm, restraint and respect for Iraq’s constitutional institutions at this crucial juncture,” it said in a statement posted to Facebook.

 

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