Followers of firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr storm country’s parliament in Baghdad 

Chaos in Iraq as followers of firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr storm parliament twice in two days

  • Protesters storm Baghdad Parliament to protest formation of new government they claim is backed by Iran 
  • They are followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who led 2004 insurgency against US and British troops
  • Iraqi security forces used tear gas and sound bombs to try to repel them with at least 125 people injured 
  • Demonstrators call for government ‘free of corruption and foreign influence’ that plagued Iraq for decades

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Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr led the Shia insurgency against the British and American occupation of Iraq in 2004, killing dozens of servicemen

Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr led the Shia insurgency against the British and American occupation of Iraq in 2004, killing dozens of servicemen

Supporters of the former nemesis of British and American troops in Iraq have again breached the once-legendary Green Zone to storm the parliament building in Baghdad on Saturday.

It is the second time in a week that hundreds of followers of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have breached Iraq’s parliament to protest efforts to form a new government led by Iran-backed groups.

Iraqi security forces used tear gas and sound bombs to try to repel the demonstrators with at least 125 people injured, Reuters reports. An expected parliament session did not take place and there were no lawmakers in the hall.

Thousands of al-Sadr demonstrators used ropes to pull down cement barricades leading to the gate of Iraq’s Green Zone, which houses official buildings and foreign embassies. 

‘We are calling for a government free from corruption … and those are the demands of the people,’ one protester, Abu Foad, said among crowds of protesters carrying placards with Sadr’s photograph and national flags. 

It was al-Sadr who in 2003 formed the Mahdi Army to lead an insurgency against the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, which killed dozens of British and American soldiers.

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. 

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr begin to demolish concrete barriers to raid Green Zone during a protest against the nomination of a new premier in Baghdad today

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr begin to demolish concrete barriers to raid Green Zone during a protest against the nomination of a new premier in Baghdad today

Iraqi security forces used tear gas and sound bombs to try to repel the demonstrators with 125 people injured, according to Reuters

Iraqi security forces used tear gas and sound bombs to try to repel the demonstrators with 125 people injured, according to Reuters

Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protest against corruption, inside the parliament in Baghdad today after storming the Green Zone barriers

Supporters of Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protest against corruption, inside the parliament in Baghdad today after storming the Green Zone barriers

Protesters were in triumphant mood as they flashed the victory sign in the Iraqi Parliament while branding photos of their leader al-Sadr

Protesters were in triumphant mood as they flashed the victory sign in the Iraqi Parliament while branding photos of their leader al-Sadr

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.’

Sadr’s party came first in an October election but he withdrew his 74 lawmakers from parliament after failing to form a government which excluded his Shi’ite rivals, most of whom who are backed by Iran and have heavily-armed paramilitary wings. 

His party then exited government formation talks in June, giving his rivals in the Coordination Framework alliance the majority they needed to move forward with the process.

Sadr has since made good on threats to stir up popular unrest if parliament tries to approve a government he does not like, saying it must be free of foreign influence and the corruption that has plagued Iraq for decades. 

Sadr’s supporters chanted against his rivals who are now trying to form a government. Many protested in front of the country’s Supreme Court, which Sadr has accused of meddling to prevent him forming a government.

In response, the Coalition Framework called on Iraqis to protest peacefully ‘in defence of the state, its legitimacy and its institutions,’ a statement read later on Saturday, raising fears of clashes.

The democratic political process is a far cry from al-Sadr’s rise to power in the aftermath of the US-led invasion in 2003.   

Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army was responsible for bloodshed on the streets of Basra and the shooting down of coalition planes.

Four British airmen were killed in Basra in May 2006 when a helicopter was shot down. The Shia militia announced it would kill any British troops it saw.

Al-Sadr’s forces offered rewards for the capture and killing of British soldiers and he was implicated in multiple kidnappings.

The militia also hunted US troops in Najaf, just south of Baghdad. At least 70 US deaths are attributed to his forces in Najaf alone.

However, the militant cleric reinvented himself and in 2018 and formed a political coalition with communists known as the Sadrist Movement.

It is the second time in a week that hundreds of followers of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have breached Iraq's parliament to protest efforts to form a new government led by Iran-backed groups

It is the second time in a week that hundreds of followers of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have breached Iraq’s parliament to protest efforts to form a new government led by Iran-backed groups

A man deploys a national flag as supporters of the Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr gather inside the country's parliament in the capital Baghdad's high-security Green Zone

A man deploys a national flag as supporters of the Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr gather inside the country’s parliament in the capital Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone

Sadr's party came first in an October election but he withdrew his 74 lawmakers from parliament after failing to form a government which excluded his Shi'ite rivals, most of whom who are backed by Iran and have heavily-armed paramilitary wings

Sadr’s party came first in an October election but he withdrew his 74 lawmakers from parliament after failing to form a government which excluded his Shi’ite rivals, most of whom who are backed by Iran and have heavily-armed paramilitary wings

Iraqi security forces use tear gas and sound bombs to try to repel the demonstrators near one of entrances to the capital Baghdad's high-security Green Zone

Iraqi security forces use tear gas and sound bombs to try to repel the demonstrators near one of entrances to the capital Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone

Supporters of the Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr wave national flags, as they protest against a rival bloc's nomination for prime minister, along the Jamhur bridge

Supporters of the Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr wave national flags, as they protest against a rival bloc’s nomination for prime minister, along the Jamhur bridge

Thousands of al-Sadr demonstrators used ropes and chains to pull down cement barricades leading to the gate of Iraq's Green Zone, which houses official buildings and foreign embassies

Thousands of al-Sadr demonstrators used ropes and chains to pull down cement barricades leading to the gate of Iraq’s Green Zone, which houses official buildings and foreign embassies

Supporters of the Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr raise a portrait of their leader who has since made good on threats to stir up popular unrest if parliament tries to approve a government he does not like, saying it must be free of foreign influence and the corruption that has plagued Iraq for decades

Supporters of the Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr raise a portrait of their leader who has since made good on threats to stir up popular unrest if parliament tries to approve a government he does not like, saying it must be free of foreign influence and the corruption that has plagued Iraq for decades

Sadr's supporters chanted against his rivals who are now trying to form a government. Many protested in front of the country's Supreme Court, which Sadr has accused of meddling to prevent him forming a government

Sadr’s supporters chanted against his rivals who are now trying to form a government. Many protested in front of the country’s Supreme Court, which Sadr has accused of meddling to prevent him forming a government

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 signalled their readiness to form a government despite his threats.

The United Nations called for a de-escalation. ‘Voices of reason and wisdom are critical to prevent further violence,’ said its mission in Iraq.

Iraq has been without a president and prime minister for about 10 months because of the deadlock.

Sadr, whom opponents also accuse of corruption, maintains large state power himself because his movement remains involved in running the country. His loyalists sit in powerful positions throughout Iraqi ministries and state bodies.

Iraqis linked neither to Sadr nor to his opponents say they are caught in the middle of the political gridlock.

While Baghdad earns record income from its vast oil wealth, the country has no budget, frequent power and water cuts, poor education and healthcare, and insufficient job opportunities for the young.

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