July 28 (AFP) – Supporters of powerful Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr on Wednesday stormed parliament after penetrating the capital’s high-security government Green Zone, protesting against a rival bloc’s nomination for prime minister.
The protests are the latest challenge for oil-rich Iraq, which remains mired in a political and a socioeconomic crisis despite elevated global oil prices.
Protesters “stormed the parliament” after initially being stopped by police firing a barrage of tear gas, a security source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
State news agency INA said on messaging app Telegram that “protesters have entered the parliament building”.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi called on the protesters to “immediately withdraw” from the heavily fortified Green Zone, which is home to both government buildings and diplomatic missions.
He warned in a statement that security forces would see to “the protection of state institutions and foreign missions, and prevent any harm to security and order”.
An AFP correspondent in the Green Zone had earlier seen protesters carrying a fellow demonstrator who had been hurt.
Sadr’s bloc won 73 seats in Iraq’s October 2021 election, making it the largest faction in the 329-seat parliament. But since the vote, talks to form a new government have stalled.
The protesters oppose the candidacy of Mohammed al-Sudani, a former minister and ex-provincial governor, who is the pro-Iran Coordination Framework’s pick for premier.
Iraq was plunged deeper into political crisis last month when the 73 lawmakers from Sadr’s bloc quit en masse in an apparent bid to break a logjam over the establishment of a new government.
Sixty-four new Iraqi lawmakers were sworn in later in June, making the pro-Iran bloc the largest in parliament.
Sadr had initially supported the idea of a “majority government” which would have sent his Shiite adversaries from the Coordination Framework into opposition.
The former militia leader then surprised many by compelling his lawmakers to resign, a move seen as seeking to pressure his rivals to fast-track government formation.
Earlier this month, hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshippers loyal to Sadr attended a Friday prayer service in Baghdad, in a display of political might to revive stalled talks on government formation.
The huge turnout came despite scorching heat and the Shiite cleric not being there in person — an indication of his status as a political heavyweight, as well as a key religious authority.
The mercurial cleric’s sermon took aim at rivals from other Shiite factions, including a powerful ex-paramilitary network.
“We are at a difficult… crossroads in the formation of the government, entrusted to some we do not trust,” Sadr said in the speech on July 15, read out by Sheikh Mahmud al-Jayashi.
Some factions have shown they are “not up to the task”, he added.