More walls go up around Baghdad's Green Zone after storming of parliament

More protests expected over prime ministerial candidate seen as backed by Iran

Iraqi security forces stand guard outside the heavily fortified Green Zone during protests in Baghdad. AP
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Blast walls and concrete reinforcements are being set up in Baghdad’s Green Zone area in anticipation of more mass protests against Iran-backed political parties and their nominee to lead the next government.

The walls with more concrete reinforcements were installed on Thursday around the already heavily fortified area, which is home to the seat of the government, parliament, ministries, the US embassy and Al Salam palace, one of the biggest palaces of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

Thousands of protesters — mostly followers of the Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr — breached security measures around the approximately 10 square kilometre area on Wednesday and stormed the parliament building in protest against a candidate to lead the next government.

Mohammed Al Sudani is the candidate of the Co-ordination Framework, a group of political parties seen by many Iraqis as being backed by Iran.

The protesters chanted slogans against Iran, and condemned the endemic corruption and political stalemate in Iraq.

Iraq held parliamentary elections in October but the political parties have failed to elect a president and prime minister.

Mr Al Sadr, who emerged as kingmaker in several elections held after Saddam was ousted in 2003, withdrew last month from the political process despite his bloc winning the most seats, saying that he did not want to co-operate with “corrupt” politicians.

His supporters in parliament immediately followed in his footsteps by resigning en masse.

The influential Shiite cleric called on supporters who stormed parliament on Wednesday to “return home and pray, as you have sent your message”.

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sadr storm the Green Zone in central Baghdad, on July 27. EPA

‘We will remain neutral’

Caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi, warned anew on Thursday that the political standoff posed a threat to the relative peace and stability in Iraq.

“The government renews its appeal to all political parties to adopt the approach of constructive dialogue,” Mr Al Kadhimi said in a statement carried by the Iraqi News Agency.

He reiterated that it was important for his caretaker government to “remain neutral”, amid accusations from Co-ordination Framework leaders that the authorities did little to prevent the storming of parliament.

“We denounce the smear campaign against the government and urge the parties concerned to display restraint,” said Mr Al Kadhimi, a former head of Iraq’s National Intelligence Service.

The Framework bloc said on Thursday that it would not withdraw its controversial candidate for prime minister, but would set up a team of negotiators to seek agreement and defuse tensions.

It called on Mr Al Kadhimi “to take concrete steps to maintain public order and security, and to prevent chaos”.

Nouri Al Maliki, a former prime minister whose Al Dawaa Party is part of the Framework coalition, visited the Green Zone during the protests on Wednesday. He was flanked by armed body guards and seen walking about with a firearm.

Updated: July 29, 2022, 8:46 AM