Protesters overran Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, home to the Iraqi Parliament and other government buildings, on Saturday, taking photos in the legislature’s chambers and vowing to return after a 24-hour occupation.
The heart of Baghdad, normally off-limits to Iraqis and referred to by many opponents of the current Iraqi government as its nest of dysfunction, was overrun by a large group of protesters led by Shiite Cleric Moktada al Sadr on Saturday. The invasion of the Iraqi Parliament followed weeks of protests and lasted 24 hours before al-Sadr allegedly directed protesters to leave in an orderly fashion Sunday evening to participate in an upcoming Shiite pilgrimage ritual.
Moktada al Sadr is one of the most dominate figures in Iraq today. Although he does not hold office, he is the leader of the Sadrist Movement, a popular political party in Iraq. He also is the leader of the a Shiite militia Saraya al-Salam. Breitbart News reports that “Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr spent many years in hiding from Saddam Hussein, but after the Iraq war ended, he portrayed himself as an Iraqi nationalist, transcending the divide between Sunnis and Shia.”
According to CNN, Sadr has “been railing against the Iraqi government for months, warning that his supporters would enter the Green Zone if the government didn’t take steps to deal with the economic crisis and make other reforms.” Protesters blame the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for perceived widespread corruption within the government. Both al-Abadi and al-Sadr are Shiites.
Before they left, protesters took photos in the seats of prominent legislators and waved Iraqi flags in unison, with many of these images surfacing on social media.
— AFP news agency (@AFP) April 30, 2016
— AJE News (@AJENews) April 30, 2016
Protesters sit in Iraq MPs’ seats inside the parliament hall pic.twitter.com/59mtoo79wM
— W.G. Dunlop (@wgdunlop) April 30, 2016
Not the usual scene in Iraq’s Parliament. pic.twitter.com/DlnORW6ZtD
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) April 30, 2016
— Ibrahim Sherkhan (@30ibo) April 30, 2016
— Omar Al-Dulimi (@ODulimi) April 30, 2016
American Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has issued a statement vowing firm support for the prime minister. “He seems to be in a very strong position. Obviously we support him strongly because of what he stands for,” Carter told reporters Monday.
Iraq is currently suffering an extraordinary period of sectarian strife, with a variety of terrorist organizations and separatist militias vying for power at the expense of the government in Baghdad. Shiite militias backed by the government of Iran are looking to erode the influence of the government and Sunni groups in the fight against the Islamic State. The Islamic State (ISIS) still controls the nation’s second-largest city, Mosul, forcing its native Christian, Yazidi, and Shiite population to flee. Near Mosul, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has its capital, Erbil, which has become a makeshift home for the refugees of ISIS raids in northern Sinjar.
Iraq’s Christian population has decreased by 80% in a little more than a decade, and has responded to combined invasion by ISIS and Syrian Kurdish militias imposing themselves on Assyrian Christian land by forming their own militia.