Hundreds of people have broken into Baghdad's "Green Zone." Security forces fired tear gas and bullets into the air to stop more people from entering the fortified zone. Some protesters began ransacking the parliament.
The demonstrators who stormed Baghdad's "Green Zone" on Saturday are supporters of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, Reuters reported. Once again, his followers responded to their leader's call to pressure the Iraqi government to reform.
Demonstrations have been taking place for weeks at the gates of the heavily fortified district, which houses government buildings and foreign embassies.
Some of them entered the parliament building on Saturday after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government.
When inside, hundreds of protesters danced, waved Iraqi flags and chanted pro-Sadr slogans. Some appeared to be breaking furniture.
Iraqi security forces fired tear gas and bullets into the air in an effort to prevent more supporters of al-Sadr from entering the "Green Zone," according to sources in the police and Sadr's office.
SWAT troops and presidential guard forces were trying to keep the protesters from crossing a bridge close to the US embassy compound, the source from Sadr's office told Reuters.
All entrances of Baghdad were shut "as a precautionary measure to maintain the capital's security," a security official said.
A United Nations spokesman and Western diplomats based inside the "Green Zone" said their compounds were locked down.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi plans to replace some ministers with technocrats in order to combat corruption, but political parties in Baghdad have resisted the changes.
Chaos in Iraq
The prime minister warned that any delay to the vote could hamper the war against the so-called "Islamic State" (IS). The terror militia controls swathes of northern and western Iraq.
Earlier, the protesters gathered outside the "Green Zone" and crossed a bridge over the Tigris River, chanting "The cowards ran away!" in an apparent reference to politicians leaving parliament, a Reuters witness said.
A guard at a checkpoint said protesters had not been searched before entering.
A spokesman of al Sadr told Reuters the cleric called on his supporters to evacuate parliament and set up tents outside.
Abadi later issued a statement claiming the situation in Baghdad "was under the control of the security forces" and urged protesters to return to "designated protest areas."
das/mm/tj (Reuters, AFP)