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Protesters target Iraq's parliament following cleric's call
(CNN)The situation was tense in Baghdad by nightfall after hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters angry at government inaction stormed the city's green zone and parliament building -- the first time that fortified zone housing government buildings and the U.S. Embassy has been penetrated since 2003.The protests Saturday were sparked by a fiery speech from Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who was speaking from the city of Najaf, about 100 miles south of the Iraqi capital. He's been railing against the Iraqi government for months now, warning that his supporters would enter the green zone if the Iraqi government didn't take steps to deal with the economic crisis the country is facing, as well as eradicate corruption and make reforms.Images broadcast on state-run news channel Al-Iraqiya showed protesters carrying Iraqi flags walking freely in the green zone and gathering in the halls and meeting rooms in parliament.The green zone was delineated shortly after U.S. troops invaded Iraq in 2003, forcing out then-President Saddam Hussein and overtaking Baghdad. The zone was strongly secured while U.S. troops were in charge of Iraq's security, and while the occasional mortar or grenade was lobbed into it and a handful of suicide attackers slipped inside, no large-scale protests have managed to get through.But now, many Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias have been diverted to fight the terror group ISIS elsewhere in the country, and the security situation in the capital may not be as strong.Saad Maan, the spokesman for Baghdad's Operations Command, told Al-Iraqiya earlier Saturday Iraqi security forces are present in the green zone and are in full control of the situation.
- Government calls on protesters to disperse
- Protesters enter Iraq's parliament building
- Car bomb targeted market town east of Baghdad
Some lawmakers beatenNo large-scale violence has been reported in the protests, although Hoshiar Abdullah, a Kurdish member of parliament, told Kurdish television network Rudaw that the deputy speaker of parliament and five other Kurdish lawmakers were trapped inside the parliament building and had been attacked by protesters who also smashed their cars.Shiite lawmaker Ammar Taama -- also the head of the Shiite Fadhila faction in parliament -- was reportedly beaten by some protesters, possibly a target due to his past comments criticizing Sadr.A statement on the website of Iraqi President Fuad Masum called on protesters to remain calm, "abide by the law, not to attack any lawmaker, government employees, public or private properties and to evacuate the building."It also urged "the cabinet, lawmakers, and head of the political blocs to implement the desired ministerial amendment, execute the political and administrative reforms, and fight corruption. We believe that burying partisan and factional quota system is a task that can no longer be postponed."According to Iraq's Defense Ministry, Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi has contacted military commanders in all sectors, urging them to be cautious and vigilant and not allow terrorist elements to exploit the situation.Security had already been heightened in Baghdad due to a planned Shiite pilgrimage to Kadumiya Monday and Tuesday.Rumors flew that some politicians were trying to flee the protests, but an official at the Baghdad airport told Al-Iraqiya no Iraqi officials were at the airport trying to leave the country.And the U.S. Embassy tweeted that reports that officials from the Iraqi government or another party are in the American Embassy are not true.The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) issued a statement saying it was "gravely concerned" by the protests and "the storming of the Council of Representatives premises by demonstrators after they entered the International Zone."The Mission condemns the use of violence, including against elected officials, and urges calm, restraint and respect for Iraq's constitutional institutions at this crucial juncture. UNAMI calls on the Government, all political leaders and civil society to work together to immediately restore security and engage in dialogue that will ensure the implementation of the reforms necessary to draw Iraq out of its political, economic and security crisis," the statement said, adding that the group continues to operation from its headquarters in the green zone and "is in constant contact with parties to facilitate a solution that meets the demands of the people for reform."Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is working to bridge sectarian divides, but his government has been plagued in recent months by protests and opposition from predecessor Nuri al-Maliki, as well as Sadr.U.S. Vice President Joe Biden made a brief, unannounced visit to Baghdad Thursday for meetings with political leaders to encourage Iraqi national unity and steps to take to help Iraq's economic woes."The more the political system in Baghdad is consumed with everybody keeping their job, or figuring out how to rearrange the government, the more difficult it is for everybody to be on the same page as it relates to the next step in the counter-ISIL campaign," said one senior administration official traveling with Biden. "The bigger danger you have to hedge against is that."
A deadly bombing east of BaghdadEarlier Saturday, at least 24 people were killed and as many as 38 wounded when a car bomb exploded at a busy livestock market in Nahrawan, east of Baghdad, police said.ISIS claimed responsibility for the bomb through its media group, Amaq Agency.The Amaq Agency said "around 100" people had been either killed or injured in the blast. The bomb targeted Shiites, the agency said. ISIS is a Sunni group.Sectarian violence has been rife in the country since the U.S, invasion in 2003, that toppled Saddam from power, and it has pitted Sunnis and Shias against each another, with the Kurds gaining a measure of autonomy in the north of the country.