Baghdad: Hundreds of protesters have stormed Iraq’s parliament building, waving flags and taking selfies in a demonstration against a government deadlock.
Supporters of the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr broke through gates of the protected Green Zone in Baghdad after politicians failed to convene to vote in a new cabinet. A state of emergency was declared in the capital as the unrest continued on Saturday afternoon.
Witnesses said the protesters gathered outside the heavily fortified district housing government buildings and foreign embassies before crossing a bridge over the Tigris River chanting “the cowards ran away!” in apparent reference to departing MPs.
There were no immediate reports of clashes with security forces but special forces personnel were dispatched with armoured vehicles to protect sensitive sites, security officials said.
Some compounds used by United Nations staff and Western diplomats were reportedly locked down as the unrest continued.
A spokesperson for the Foreign Office told The Independent it was investigating reports and had no immediate information on the effect on British Embassy staff.
One video posed online showed protesters attacking am armoured SUV with sticks and other objects, while other footage showed a man wearing a grey suit being beaten.
A Kurdish Peshmerga guard at a checkpoint told the Reuters news agency protesters surged in after security forces pulled back from an external checkpoint in an unsuccessful effort to secure the parliament building, and had not been searched.
Local television broadcast footage from inside the parliament building showing hundreds of protesters dancing, waving Iraqi flags and chanting pro-Sadr slogans.
Some appeared to be breaking furniture and ransacking the building, while others took videos and selfies in the main chamber, where politicians had been meeting minutes earlier.
Thousands more protesters remained at the gates of the district chanting “Peaceful, peaceful!”. Supporters of al-Sadr, whose fighters once controlled swathes of Baghdad and helped defend the capital from Isis, have been demonstrating in Baghdad for week in response to their leader’s call to put pressure on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to follow through on promises of reform.
Al-Sadr threatened to storm the Green Zone with supporters earlier this month calling for the removal of the parliamentary speaker, Salim al-Jabouri, and held a political sit-in calling for a new cabinet to be appointed.
Political parties have resisted efforts to replace some ministers -chosen to balance Iraq’s divisions along party, ethnic and sectarian lines -with technocrats in order to combat corruption.
Advocates warned that any delay to the vote could hamper the war against the so-called Islamic State, which controls vast swathes of northern and western Iraq.