Iraq PM orders arrest of protesters

Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi visited the damaged building after protesters left. Photo taken from BBC

Iraq's Prime Minister has ordered the arrest of Shia Muslim activists who stormed parliament in Baghdad on Saturday.

Haider al-Abadi said those who caused damage and attacked police should be brought to justice.

Supporters of cleric Moqtada Sadr broke through barricades of the fortified Green Zone in protest against delays in approving a new cabinet.

A state of emergency was declared in Baghdad after the protests.

Supporters of Sadr want MPs to push through plans to replace ministers with political affiliations with non-partisan technocrats.

Powerful parties in parliament have refused to approve the change for several weeks.

The BBC's Ahmed Maher in Baghdad says this is one of the country's worst political crises since the US-led invasion and downfall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Systemic political patronage has aided corruption in Iraq, depleting the government's resources as it struggles to cope with declining oil revenue and the war against the jihadist group Islamic State (IS).

Earlier this week, hundreds of thousands of people marched towards the Green Zone, the most secure part of Baghdad that houses embassies and government buildings, to protest against the political deadlock.

Parliament again failed to reach a quorum on Saturday, after which the protest escalated and saw hundreds of people tear down blast walls and storm the parliament building.

Inside the chamber, jubilant demonstrators took up the seats of the deputies and posed for photos. Nearby, United Nations and embassy staff were on lockdown inside their compounds, Reuters reported.

After the protest, demonstrators set up camp outside the parliament, and many were still there on Sunday.

Despite Abadi's order - made after he visited the damaged parliament building - there are no indications that any arrests have taken place.

Iraq's system of sharing government jobs has long been criticised for promoting unqualified candidates and encouraging corruption.

The government is carefully balanced between party and religious loyalties, but the country ranks 161st of 168 on corruption watchdog Transparency International's corruption perceptions index.

"Either corrupt (officials) and quotas remain or the entire government will be brought down and no one will be exempted," Sadr said in a televised address shortly before parliament was stormed.

Abadi, who came to power in 2014, has promised to stamp out corruption and ease sectarian tensions, but he has failed to far to introduce a new technocratic cabinet.

Correspondents say the political deadlock in Baghdad has diverted attention away from the government's ongoing fight against Islamic State militants.

On Sunday IS claimed a twin car-bomb attack that killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens in the southern city of Samawa.

Attacks by the IS group are relatively rare the mainly Shia south. IS holds positions mostly in Sunni areas of western and northern Iraq.

Who is Moqtada Sadr?

The Shia cleric and his militia group, the Mehdi Army, gained prominence after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. galvanising anti-US sentiment.

Sadr's followers clashed repeatedly with US forces, whose withdrawal the cleric consistently demanded.

An arrest warrant was issued for Sadr in 2004 in connection with the murder of a rival cleric.

His militia was also blamed for the torture and killing of thousands of Sunnis in the sectarian carnage of 2006 and 2007. Sadr fled to Iran during that period.

In 2011, Sadr returned from his self-imposed exile to Iraq, taking a more conciliatory tone and calling for Iraqi unity and peace.


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