Thousands of supporters of Shi'ite populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr stormed Baghdad's fortified government zone on Saturday for the second time in a week, escalating a political stand-off that is hitting ordinary Iraqis hardest.
Protesters rallied by Sadr and his social-political Sadrist Movement tore down concrete barriers and entered the Green Zone, which houses government departments and foreign missions, before breaking into the parliament building, a Reuters witness said.
"We are calling for a government free from corruption ... and those are the demands of the people," one protester, giving his name as Abu Foad, said outside the building among crowds of protesters carrying placards with Sadr's photograph and national flags.
The scenes followed similar protests on Wednesday, although this time at least 70 people - including protesters and police - were wounded as Sadr's supporters threw stones and police fired teargas and stun grenades, according to security officials and medics. Some of the wounded were seriously injured, they said.
Sadr's party came first in a general election in October but he withdrew his lawmakers from parliament when he failed to form a government which excluded his Shi'ite rivals, mostly groups backed by Iran.
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 and the corruption that has plagued Iraq for decades.
The Sadrists chanted against Sadr's political rivals who are now trying to form a government. Many were heading towards the country's Supreme Court, which Sadr has accused of meddling to prevent him forming a government.
Iraq has been without a president and prime minister for a record period because of the deadlock.
Sadr 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 Sadr nor to his opponents say they are caught in the middle of the political gridlock.
While Baghdad earns record income from its vast oil wealth, the country has no budget, frequent power and water cuts, poor education and healthcare, and insufficient job opportunities for the young.
© 2023 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.