State of Emergency Declared in Baghdad as Protesters Storm Iraq’s Parliament


Protesters stormed Iraq’s parliament Saturday in a dramatic culmination of months of demonstrations, casting uncertainty over the tenure of the country’s prime minister and the foundations of the political system laid in place after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Security forces declared a state of emergency in the Iraqi capital after demonstrators climbed over blast walls and broke through cordons to enter Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, also home to ministries and the U.S. embassy. Many were followers of Iraq’s powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has been urging his supporters onto the streets.

Lawmakers fled the building in panic, with some berated and struck as they left. Others were trapped in the basement for hours, too afraid to face the crowds who complain that the country’s political class is racked by corruption.

It was a day of high drama for a country that is no stranger to revolution and that has seen all of its leaders overthrown from the time the state was established in 1921 until the U.S. invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. At issue now is the quota system introduced when the U.S.-led coalition put together Iraq’s first post-invasion government, which determines Iraq’s political positions according to sect and ethnicity.

The turmoil threatened to unseat the already embattled prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, with whom the United States has partnered in the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq but whose efforts at reform have stumbled. U.S. officials have expressed concern that the unrest could affect the battlefield as Iraq also struggles with an extreme budget crisis caused by a plunge in oil prices.

“Today the people announced their revolution,” said Sadr, who led a violent resistance against U.S. troops during the Iraq War, in a statement Saturday night. “History will record the birth of a new Iraq, from the ashes of corruption and the corrupt.”

Entering the parliament building, which, like the rest of the Green Zone, has been off-limits to the public for the past 13 years, protesters reacted with jubilation. To many, the area has become a symbol of corruption, the place where Iraq’s political elite live walled off from the rest of the country.

They crammed the building’s main hall, chanting and waving flags.

“I was thrilled to be in that room. It was like being in a place you only see on television,” said 26-year-old Abdullah al-Zaidi. “When I entered I was looking at chairs, and I wanted to break them because the politicians are killing us and stealing from us from these chairs.”

He said he didn’t, as organizers urged protesters to remain peaceful. However, television footage showed that some others did.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim