UPDATE – Demanding gov’t reform, Sadrists storm Iraq parliament


By Idris Okuducu and Haydar Hadi

BAGHDAD (AA) – Supporters of prominent Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr stormed Baghdad’s Green Zone on Saturday before forcing their way into the parliament building where they broke windows and smashed furniture.

Pro-Sadr demonstrators overran barriers set up around the heavily-fortified Green Zone, which houses a number of vital Iraqi state institutions and foreign diplomatic missions.

The Iraqi army has since responded by declaring a state of high alert in the capital and sealing all entrances into the city.

Speaking at a press conference in the city of Najaf (located some 160 kilometers south of Baghdad), al-Sadr voiced his rejection of what he described as “a political system that fails to take the popular will into account”.

He also announced the suspension of the activities of his “Ahrar” political bloc, which holds 34 seats in parliament, asserting that Ahrar MPs would refrain from participating in upcoming assembly sessions.

Corrupt officials, he declared, “are still preventing the reform of Iraq’s government. Cabinet ministers… do not represent us; they represent the government”.

Al-Sadr added: “There are enormous pressures on [Prime Minister Haidar] al-abadi by certain sectarian forces. We want to get rid of them [i.e., sectarian forces] and leave the final word to the people.”

Meanwhile, a scheduled session of parliament to vote on nominees for a proposed cabinet lineup was postponed to May 10 after lawmakers failed to meet the required quorum.

In recent months, al-Sadr supporters have staged several mass demonstrations near the Green Zone to reiterate longstanding demands for sweeping government reform.

Last month, the firebrand Shia cleric’s supporters surrounded several government ministries in Baghdad to press for their demands.

Iraq has been embroiled in a deepening political crisis since March, when al-Sadr loyalists began staging protests in the capital with a view to pressing al-Abadi to appoint a government of “technocrats” untainted by corruption or sectarian affiliations.

The crisis escalated further earlier this month when MPs refused to allow Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri to chair a scheduled assembly session, accusing him of failing to summon the prime minister to answer corruption allegations.

Iraq ranks 161st out of 168 countries on Transparency International’s “corruption perceptions index”.