Demonstrators were protesting the recent nomination of Mohammed al Sudani as the official nominee of a coalition led by Iran-backed Shia parties and their allies.

Demonstrators were protesting the recent selection of Mohammed al Sudani as the official nominee of the Coordination Framework bloc, a coalition led by Iran-backed Shia parties and their allies.
Demonstrators were protesting the recent selection of Mohammed al Sudani as the official nominee of the Coordination Framework bloc, a coalition led by Iran-backed Shia parties and their allies. (Ahmed Saad / Reuters)

Hundreds of Iraqi protesters have breached Baghdad’s parliament in a protest against the selection of a nominee for prime minister by Iran-backed parties.

Wednesday's demonstrators were protesting the recent nomination of Mohammed al Sudani as the official nominee of the Coordination Framework bloc, a coalition led by Iran-backed Shia parties and their allies.

The majority of the protesters were followers of influential Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr. 

The demonstrators, all of them men, were seen walking on tables on the parliament floor, sitting in the chairs of lawmakers and waving Iraqi flags. Some carried portraits of the cleric.

No lawmakers were present, and only security forces were inside the building and they appeared to allow the protesters in with relative ease.

It was the largest protest since federal elections were held in October, and the second time Sadr has used his ability to mobilise masses to send a message to his political rivals this month. 

Earlier in July, thousands heeded his call for a mass prayer, an event many feared would turn into protests.

READ MORE: Sadr’s parliament ‘protest’ serves the pro-Iran groups he claims to oppose

'Sudani out!'

The storming of parliament carried an implicit warning to the Framework party of a potential escalation to come if the government forms with al Sudani at the helm.

Earlier Wednesday, demonstrators breached Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

Riot police used water cannons to repel demonstrators pulling down cement blast walls. But many breached the gates to the area, which houses government buildings and foreign embassies.

The demonstrators walked down the zone's main thoroughfare, with dozens gathering outside the doors to the parliament building.

Riot police assembled at the doors to the main gates. Demonstrators crowded around two entrances to the Green Zone, with some scaling the cement wall and chanting, “Sudani, out!"

Caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi called for calm and restraint, and for protesters to “immediately withdraw” from the area.

Al Sudani was selected by State of Law leader and former premier Nouri al Maliki. Before al Sudani can face parliament to be seated officially as premier-designate, parties must first select a president.

Sadr's bloc won 73 seats in last year's election, making it the largest faction in the 329-seat parliament. 

He exited government formation talks after he was not able to corral enough lawmakers to get the majority required to elect Iraq’s next president, despite having won most seats in the October federal election. 

By replacing his lawmakers, the Framework leader pushed ahead to form next government.

Many fear doing so also opens the doors to street protests organised by Sadr's large grassroots following and instability.

His followers stormed the Green Zone in 2016 in a similar fashion and entered the country’s parliament building to demand political reform.

Who is Muqtada al Sadr?

Sadr has been a long-time adversary of the United States who also opposes Iranian influence in Iraq.

His bloc's victory in 2018 election was seen as a remarkable comeback for Sadr, who for years had been sidelined by Iranian-backed rivals and was regarded by US and Iraqi officials as an unpredictable maverick.

He reached out to dispossessed Shia and marginalised Sunnis, and restored links with Sunni neighbours while keeping Iran at bay.

READ MORE: Iraqi lawmakers from Sadr's bloc resign amid political stalemate

Source: TRTWorld and agencies