Iraq protesters storm parliament, demand end to corruption

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BAGHDAD — Hundreds of protesters stormed Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone on Saturday and entered the Parliament building, waving Iraqi flags, snapping photographs, breaking furniture and demanding an end to corruption.

As the chaos unfolded in the afternoon, Baghdad Operations Command announced a state of emergency, deploying additional forces around the capital city. Checkpoints at city entrances were closed, even as the protests remained largely nonviolent.

The scenes of protest, circulated in photographs and videos on social media sites, were potent demonstrations of the anger that had grown during months of protests by Iraqis who have demanded that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi carry out measures to end sectarian quotas in politics and fight corruption.

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One protester, speaking to the Kurdish news channel Rudaw, pointed to chocolates on the desks of lawmakers and said: “People have nothing to eat. The lawmakers are sitting here eating chocolates and mocking our pain.”

The American Embassy in Baghdad reported on Twitter on Saturday that rumors that Iraqi officials had sought safety in the embassy compound were not true, nor were reports that the embassy was evacuating personnel.

For many protesters, jubilant at having breached the blast walls and razor wire that ring the Green Zone, it was a place they had never been.

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To Iraqis who have lived through the reign of Saddam Hussein, the American occupation and the current turmoil, the Green Zone has long symbolized tyranny, occupation and corruption. Above all, it has been a sign of the separation between ordinary people and a ruling elite unresponsive to the aspirations of Iraq’s citizens.

The mere presence of protesters in the halls of government on Saturday deepened a political crisis that has paralyzed Iraq’s government as it struggles to keep up the fight against the Islamic State and faces a collapse in oil prices that has sharply reduced government revenue.

The protesters were mostly supporters of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who has rallied his followers to push for demands and has largely supported Mr. Abadi’s promises, still unfulfilled, to improve how the government works. The ease with which they penetrated the rim of the Green Zone suggested that security forces were supportive of the protesters, as there were no reports of shots fired.

The Parliament was stormed after a session that had been scheduled for Saturday was postponed because a quorum could not be reached. Mr. Abadi had been expected to introduce several new ministers as part of a promise to overhaul his cabinet and fill it with technocrats instead of politicians beholden to a party or sect.

On Tuesday, Mr. Abadi gained approval for some of the new ministers, but only after a revolt from opposition lawmakers who had called for his ouster, even tossing water bottles at him as he entered the room.

It was unclear on Saturday afternoon how Mr. Abadi would respond, and how he would regain control over the country’s politics.

Mr. Abadi, a Shiite, rose to the office of prime minister in 2014, just after the Islamic State seized control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. He replaced Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, another Shiite, whose sectarian policies were blamed by the United States and others for marginalizing Iraq’s minority Sunnis and allowing the rise of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Falih Hassan and Omar Al-Jawoshy reported from Baghdad, and Tim Arango from Istanbul.

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