Early this morning, hundreds of protesters have stormed the Iraq parliament in Baghdad, after breaching the heavily fortified wall around the formerly U.S.-held "Green Zone."
The Iraq parliament was shut down this morning after hundreds of protesters broke into the building, causing a political crisis throughout Iraq. The protesters are supporters of Iraqi Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, reports Reuters.
The protests in Baghdad come just hours after a suicide bomber drove a truck into a gathering of Shiite Muslims in Southeastern Baghdad, killing 19 people, and wounding 48 others. After the suicide bombing, the U.S. embassy in Iraq was locked down, with foreign diplomats – who live and work in the heavily secured "Green Zone" – from other countries making similar moves, locking down their embassy compounds.
The situation in Iraq is rapidly deteriorating. As of this reporting, protesters have reportedly taken control of the Iraq parliament building, Iraqi security forces have locked down other government buildings and foreign embassies, including the U.S. embassy, moving heavily armored vehicles to protect sensitive locations in the "Green Zone.""The cowards ran away!" chanted Iraqi protesters as they crossed the Tigris River and breached the heavily fortified "Green Zone," referring to the Iraq Prime Minister and his cabinet. In response to reports that the Iraq Prime Minister had evacuated, local news stations broadcast vide of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi walking within the "Green Zone" surrounded by heavily armed security personnel.
Iraqi security forces have locked down the entire city of Baghdad, preventing any entry to the Iraq capital while the political crisis in Iraq continues to unfold. A security official told Reuters that the move was "just a precautionary measure to maintain the capital's security."
The occupation of the Iraqi parliament is unprecedented, other than a few mortar attacks over the past couple years, the "Green Zone" in Baghdad has been relatively safe, protected and isolated from the rest of the city and the rest of Iraq at large. The "Green Zone" is separated from Baghdad by concrete barriers, security checkpoints and massive walls which have come to be a symbol of the separation between Iraq's government and the people of Iraq.
The protesters pushed through checkpoints and Iraqi security forces reportedly stood down, moving back as hundreds of protesters crossed a bridge into the "Green Zone." The breach of the Iraq parliament building comes after months of anti-government protests, reports The Chicago Tribune, marking a "major escalation" of the political crisis in Iraq. Shiite Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has become a leading figure among the anti-government movement in Iraq, criticizing the Iraqi parliament and government for its isolation from the people of Iraq.After the suicide bombing in Baghdad today, protesters and al-Sadr supporters began to gather outside the "Green Zone," and while al-Sadr didn't call for the protests himself, many of the protesters who later breached the "Green Zone" and who currently occupy the Iraq parliament building identify as al-Sadr supporters.
Today's protests mark a monumental shift in the political situation in Iraq, and the situation is still unfolding.
Video shared on social media reportedly shows the anti-government protesters assaulting a member of the Iraq parliament as he attempted to escape the parliament building. Security has tightened throughout Baghdad, with Iraqi security forces occupying defensive positions around various buildings within the "Green Zone," but Iraq counterterror spokesman stated today that the situation is under control, but his security forces stand ready to "protect the legitimacy of the government" should the situation continue to escalate.
"We still view this as a demonstration. We aren't taking any part in this as it's not something regarding terrorism," said Sabah al-Numan, spokesmen for the Iraqi counterterrorism forces.
[Photo by AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed]