BAGHDAD: Hundreds of supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr stormed into Baghdad’s Green Zone and entered parliament on Saturday after Sadr denounced politicians’ failure to reform a political quota system blamed for rampant corruption.
The protesters, who had gathered outside the heavily fortified district housing government buildings and many foreign embassies, crossed a bridge over the Tigris River chanting: “The cowards ran away!” in apparent reference to departing lawmakers.
There were no reports of clashes with security forces. But an army special forces unit was dispatched with armored vehicles to protect sensitive sites, two security officials said. No curfew has been imposed, they said.
All entrances of Baghdad were shut “as a precautionary measure to maintain the capital’s security,” another security official said.
A United Nations spokesperson and Western diplomats based inside the Green Zone said their compounds were locked down. A US embassy spokesperson denied reports of evacuation.
Earlier in the day, a suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with three tonnes of explosives into a gathering of Shia pilgrims in the southeastern Baghdad suburb of Nahrawan, killing 19 people and wounding 48 others in an attack claimed by the ultra-hardline Sunni militants.
Sharqiya TV showed Prime Minister Haider al Abadi walking inside the Green Zone with dozens of armed guards following the breach, discrediting reports he had fled. Protesters later entered the nearby cabinet headquarters.
Such a breach is unprecedented, though only a few years ago mortars frequently rained down on the 10-square-kilometre Green Zone, which once housed the headquarters of the US occupation and before that a palace belonging to Saddam Hussein.