Middle East

Iraq Shia protesters camp out after storming parliament

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Media captionThe protesters toppled the Green Zone wall and entered the parliament building

Hundreds of supporters of a powerful Shia Muslim cleric remain camped outside Iraq's parliament, a day after they stormed it.

Supporters of cleric Moqtada Sadr say they are angry at delays in approving a new, non-partisan government of technocrats.

They broke into the secure Green Zone, home to embassies and government buildings, after weeks of protests.

A state of emergency has been declared.

Iraq's system of sharing government jobs has long been criticised for promoting unqualified candidates and encouraging corruption.

The government is carefully balanced between party and religious loyalties, but the country ranks 161st of 168 on Transparency International's corruption perceptions index.

"Either corrupt (officials) and quotas remain or the entire government will be brought down and no one will be exempted," Mr Sadr said in a televised address shortly before parliament was stormed.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has called on demonstrators to leave the 10 sq km (four sq mile) Green Zone and return to designated protest areas.

A state of emergency was declared, leading to entrances to the city being temporarily shut, but no curfew.

A new challenge - BBC Middle East analyst Sebastian Usher

Image copyright Reuters

After Saturday's dramatic breaching of the walls of the Green Zone and mass entry into parliament, Moqtada Sadr's followers are now settling in for a new phase of their campaign against the political elite.

They have brought their anger and their demands right into the politicians' backyard. Foreign embassies are watching anxiously, too. The security forces fired tear gas to try to stop the influx but there has been no real confrontation so far.

Moqtada Sadr is presenting himself as the voice of the people demanding an end to corruption.

That should make him an ally of the prime minister but his methods seem more like another challenge to Haider al-Abadi's authority.

As darkness fell on Saturday, the protesters could be seen sitting on lawns or in tents near parliament which they had occupied earlier.

Members of the Sadrist militia group Saraya al-Salam were keeping order in the area, news agencies said.

The demonstrators took over parliament after breaking through the blast barriers which surround the Green Zone, toppling sections of the wall.

The push began after MPs failed again to convene in sufficient numbers for a vote on the new cabinet.

Stones were thrown at cars thought to be carrying MPs away from the scene.

Once inside the chamber, jubilant demonstrators took up the seats of the deputies and posed for photos.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Groups of women could be seen among the mostly male protesters

Mr Sadr wants Prime Minister Abadi to commit to a plan to replace ministers with non-partisan technocrats.

Powerful parties in parliament have refused to approve the change for several weeks.

Earlier this week, hundreds of thousands of people marched towards the Green Zone to protest against the political deadlock.

Mr Abadi, who came to power in 2014, has promised to stamp out corruption and ease tensions with the Sunni Muslim minority.

A survey by the Pew Research Centre in 2011 suggested that 51% of Iraqi Muslims identified themselves as Shia, compared with 42% Sunni.

Read more: Sunni and Shia, Islam's ancient schism

Who is Moqtada Sadr?

Image copyright Reuters

The Shia cleric and his militia group, the Mehdi Army, gained prominence after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, galvanising anti-US sentiment. Mr Sadr's followers clashed repeatedly with US forces, whose withdrawal the cleric consistently demanded.

An arrest warrant was issued for Mr Sadr in 2004 in connection with the murder of a rival cleric.

His militia was also blamed for the torture and killing of thousands of Sunnis in the sectarian carnage of 2006 and 2007. Mr Sadr fled to Iran during that period.

In 2011, Mr Sadr returned from his self-imposed exile, taking a more conciliatory tone and calling for Iraqi unity and peace.

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