Sadr supporters storm parliament
Hundreds of protesters have breached a high-security zone in Baghdad and broken into Iraq’s parliament building.
The supporters of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr oppose the nomination of a rival candidate for prime minister.
Mr Sadr’s political alliance won the most seats in last October’s general election, but it is not in power due to political deadlock following the vote.
Police reportedly fired tear gas and water cannon at the protesters. No lawmakers were present at the time.
The group penetrated Baghdad’s closely-guarded Green Zone – which is home to a number of the capital city’s most important buildings including embassies.
A security source told the AFP news agency that the security forces initially appeared to have halted the intruders, but they then “stormed the parliament”.
Iraq’s current prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, called on protesters to leave the building while the crowd sang, danced and lay on tables.
The tussle over a new government has put fresh strain on a political system that has been buffeted by crises since U.S.-led forces toppled dictator Saddam Hussein two decades ago.
In a sign of Iran’s concern, one of its senior military commanders, Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani, visited Baghdad in recent days in an effort to keep tensions from escalating, a Western diplomat said.
An Iraqi official in the Coordination Framework, an alliance of Iran-aligned factions, confirmed the visit but said Ghaani didn’t appear to have succeeded, without giving details.
Iran’s embassy in Baghdad didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Ghaani, who heads Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ foreign legions, has struggled to wield the influence of his predecessor, Qassem Soleimani, killed by a U.S. attack in 2020.
“Iranian influence has had its ups and downs and has been waning to some extent,” said Renad Mansour of Chatham House, a think tank. “This election and government formation process has exposed fragmentation … among the political parties which makes it very complicated for Iran.”
The crisis comes at a difficult moment for Iran elsewhere. The heavily armed Hezbollah and its allies lost a parliamentary majority in Lebanon in a May, though they still have big sway.
Background of the movement
Al-Sadr’s bloc emerged from elections in October as the biggest parliamentary faction but still fell far short of a majority.
Ten months on, the deadlock persists over the establishment of a new government – the longest period since the 2003 invasion by the United States reset the political order in the oil-rich country.
Squabbling political parties failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to pick a president – an important step before a prime minister can be selected. By convention, the post of prime minister goes to a leader from Iraq’s Shia majority.
After the negotiations stalled, al-Sadr withdrew his bloc from parliament and announced he was exiting talks on forming a government.
Al-Sadr’s withdrawal ceded dozens of seats to the Coalition Framework, an alliance of Shia parties backed by Iran.
Al-Sadr has since made good on threats to stir up popular unrest if parliament tries to approve a government he does not like, saying it must be free of foreign influence – by Iran and the United States – and the corruption that has plagued Iraq for decades.
Al-Sadr, whom opponents also have accused of corruption, maintains large state power himself because his movement remains involved in running the country. His loyalists sit in powerful positions throughout Iraqi ministries and state bodies.
Iraqis linked neither to al-Sadr nor to his opponents said they are caught in the middle of the political gridlock.
Mass mobilisation is a well-worn strategy of al-Sadr, a mercurial figure who has emerged as a powerful force with a nationalist, anti-Iran agenda.
What do the protesters want?
The protesters are protesting against the long-standing corruption they claim the Iraqi government possesses, and its influence by Iran and the US.
Demonstrators oppose the candidacy of Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, a former minister and ex-provincial governor, who is the pro-Iran Coordination Framework’s pick for the premier’s post.