Iraqi protesters break Baghdad parliament building

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BAGHDAD – Hundreds of supporters of an influential Shia cleric broke into Iraq’s parliament for the second time in a week on Saturday to protest the government-building efforts of Iran-backed groups.

Iraqi security forces used tear gas and sound bombs to try to fend off the protesters, inflicting several injuries witnessed by journalists for The Associated Press. An expected parliamentary session did not take place and there were no lawmakers in the room.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered security forces to protect protesters and asked them to keep their protest peaceful, a statement said.

Thousands of protesters, the followers of the influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, used ropes to tear down concrete barricades leading to the gate of Iraq’s Green Zone, which is home to official buildings and foreign embassies.

They heeded al-Sadr’s call to protest the formation of the next government led by the Coalition Framework, an alliance of Shia parties backed by Iran.

“We have come today to remove the corrupt political class and prevent them from holding a parliamentary session, and to prevent the Framework System from forming a government,” said Raad Thabet, 41. “We have heeded the call of al- sadr. We are going to the Green (Zone). Regardless of the cost.”

Al-Sadr’s party withdrew from negotiations to form the government in June, giving its rivals in the Coordinating Framework Alliance the majority they needed to continue the process.

Many protesters wore black to mark the days leading up to Ashura, which commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and one of the most important figures of Shia Islam. Al-Sadr’s messages to his followers have used the important day in Shia Islam to fuel protests.

Al-Sadr has used his large following as leverage against his rivals.

On Wednesday, hundreds of his followers stormed the parliament building after the Framework Alliance named Mohammed al-Sudani their candidate for the premiership and expressed their willingness to form a government despite his threats.

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