Iraqi forces open fire as protesters storm Baghdad’s Green Zone
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Iraqi security forces opened fire on protesters who stormed into Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone and briefly forced their way into the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office on Friday, witnesses said.
Dozens of people suffered injuries from tear gas and live fire, witnesses said.
The thousands of protesters included supporters of powerful Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and people from other groups upset with the government’s failure to approve anti-corruption reforms and provide security.
The government imposed a curfew on Baghdad in response to the violence at the Green Zone, which houses parliament, government buildings and many foreign embassies.
A Reuters witness said the protesters were stopped at the gate of the cabinet building, but witnesses later said they had entered.
An AFP photographer at the scene said a group of protesters managed to muscle their way into the offices of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
"Don't be with the oppressor, be with the nation," they chanted as they confronted security forces guarding the entrance to Abadi's compound.
Our first photo from Baghdad as anti-government protesters storm the Green Zone pic.twitter.com/1NzmWUIMJD— Reuters Pictures (@reuterspictures) 20 May 2016
The protesters faced tough resistance from the guards but were able to force their way past and briefly enter the premises, the AFP photographer said.
Unverified online photos showed protesters holding Iraqi flags and flashing peace signs in front of the insignia of the prime minister’s press office and inside a meeting room.
It was not clear where Abadi himself was at the time.
The protesters began withdrawing from the Green Zone to Tahrir Square, but witnesses said an Interior Ministry force and unidentified gunmen opened fire there.
The military later said in a statement on state television that the authorities had regained control over what it called riots.
“Infiltrators exploited our forces’ preoccupation with preparations for the Falluja battle to infiltrate state institutions and cause chaos,” the Joint Operations Command said, referring to a city 50 km west of Baghdad controlled by Islamic State.
Iraq forces shoot in air, fire tear gas to push protesters away from the Green Zone. pic.twitter.com/lFB2na5EnY— W.G. Dunlop (@wgdunlop) 20 May 2016
State television said Baghdad Operations Command was imposing a curfew in the capital “until further notice”.
Sadr supporters protesting parliament’s failure to approve a non-political cabinet also stormed the Green Zone on April 30.
Sadr did not explicitly call for Friday’s demonstration. But he vowed Friday that "peaceful protests" would continue, warning that "the revolution will take another form" if there are attempts to block them.
Iraq’s political crisis erupted in February, when Abadi announced plans to appoint a cabinet of independent technocrats, threatening to uproot a system of political patronage that makes the public administration open to corruption.
He has warned that the impasse could hamper Iraq’s fight against Islamic State, which continues to control territory in northern and western Iraq.
Sadr, the heir of a revered clerical dynasty, says he backs Abadi’s plan and has accused other political groups of blocking the reforms due to their own vested interests.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)