Thousands of Iraqi protesters, many followers of a popular cleric stormed Baghdad's Green Zone Saturday to protest Iran’s interference in the country's politics.
The protesters, mostly followers of influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr who seeks to curb the influence of the Islamic Republic in Iraqi politics, gathered at the end of a bridge leading to Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone district – which houses government buildings and foreign embassies and mounted onto concrete barriers. According to Iran International’s correspondent Truska Sadeghi, they are heading for the Iraqi judiciary building.
Brandishing Iraqi flags and portraits of Sadr, the protesters chanted "All the people are with you Sayyed Moqtada," referring to Sadr with his title as a descendant of prophet Muhammad.
Calling for a consensus government and reforms, they demand ending foreign interference, particularly by the Islamic Republic, handing over corrupt officials to the law, and dissolving the parliament and the Coordination Framework, a coalition of Shiite parties close to Tehran.
Stressing the need for an independent government in Baghdad, they emphasize that they do not want an Iranian-linked government or a subordinate one. Protesters say they are not just the followers of Sadr; “we are all of Iraq,” they say.
Friday night, Sadr’s supporters shut down several offices of Iran-backed Hizb-ul-Dawa (The Islamic Dawa Party) and the Iraqi National Committee.
A senior Shiite scholar said on state TV that, “We will not let Iran’s Revolutionary Guard manage our country, we will cut off Iran's hand.”
According to unconfirmed reports, at least one protester is dead and several more are injured during the clashes with security forces.
There are also reports that Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi forces, also known as Popular Mobilization Forces, are on high alert.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has also called on protesters to show restraint to protect the safety and lives of the demonstrators.
In a show of strength on Wednesday, July 27, protesting Iraqis forced their way into the parliament, walked on tables, waved Iraqi flags, sat in lawmakers' chairs, and chanted anti-Iran slogans to protest a Tehran-backed prime ministerial nominee. On Monday, July 25, the Coordination Framework nominated Mohammed al-Sudani as the prime minister, a decision opposed by Sadr.
The mass gathering was considered a show of force by the firebrand cleric whose party won the highest number of seats in the October 2021 national elections but withdrew after failing to form a government with Sunni and Kurdish allies in Iraq's hectic power-sharing system free of Iran-backed parties that have dominated many state institutions for years.
It was the largest protest since the federal elections and the second time al-Sadr has used his ability to mobilize the masses to send a message to his political rivals this month,and renewed his call to dismantle outlaw armed factions, referring to the Iran-backed Shiite militia Hashd al-Shaabi, which was led by former Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis before he was killed alongside Qasem Soleimani in January 2020 by a US drone strike.