A state of emergency has been declared in Iraqi capital Baghdad after thousands of Shia protesters broke into its heavily fortified “Green Zone” on Saturday and rampaged to parliament as lawmakers again failed to approve new cabinet ministers.
The breach marked a major escalation in the country’s political crisis following months of anti-government protests, sit-ins and demonstrations by supporters of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Cellphone video uploaded to social media showed dozens of young men running through the halls of parliament, chanting slogans in support of al-Sadr and calling for the government to disband.
“We are all with you (al-Sadr),” one group of men yelled as they entered the building’s main chamber.
A reporter said thousands of angry protesters moved into the restricted area, which houses the country’s key government institutions, and some began ransacking the parliament building.
Rioters rampaged through several parts of the building while other protesters shouted “peacefully, peacefully” and tried to contain the destruction.
The unrest kicked off minutes after cleric Muqtada al-Sadr wrapped a news conference in the holy Shiite city of Najaf during which he accused Iraqi politicians of blocking political reforms aimed at combating corruption and waste. But he did not order supporters to enter the Green Zone.
“You are not staying here! This is your last day in the Green Zone,” shouted one protester as thousands broke into the area in central Baghdad that houses parliament, the presidential palace, the prime minister’s office as well as the US and several other embassies.
Protesters pulled barbed wire across a road leading to one of the exits of the Green Zone, effectively preventing some scared lawmakers from fleeing the chaos.
Several vehicles the protesters believed belonged to lawmakers were attacked and damaged, a reporter on the scene said.
IS truck bombing kills 21
Earlier on Saturday, a bombing in a market filled with Shiite civilians in Baghdad killed at least 21 people and wounded 42 others, according to police and hospital officials, AP reports.
IS claimed the attack, saying it used a three-ton truck bomb. The extremist group regularly carries out attacks targeting the security forces and the country’s Shiite majority.
The attack targeted Shia civilians shopping in an open-air market selling fruit, vegetables and meat in Nahrawan, according to Iraq’s Interior Ministry.
The IS statement and initial reports from local officials at the scene claimed the bombing targeted Shia pilgrims walking to Baghdad’s holy Kadhimiyah shrine.
“It was not a road for people walking toward Kadhimiyah,” said Brig. Gen. Saad Mann, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry and Baghdad Operations Command.