Followers of Iraqi cleric Sadr rally in Baghdad

Supporters of prominent Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protest against corruption outside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, Iraq, March 18, 2016.

Supporters of prominent Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protest against corruption outside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, Iraq, March 18, 2016.

Thousands of Iraqis staged a protest on Friday outside the capital Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone to demand anti-corrpution measures, heeding a call by influential Shiiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

At around 11 a.m. (0800 GMT), riot police stood aside and allowed leaders of the demonstrators to cut and pull aside barbed wire barriers to allow them to cross a bridge that leads to the zone, which houses government offices, the parliament and embassies.

“Let’s get rid of them, they’re all thieves!”, chanted the demonstrators as they rushed across the bridge, aiming to hold their weekly Friday prayer at a Green Zone gate that leads to the parliament building.

The Interior Ministry earlier said it had not authorized any sit-down protest, amid concern about clashes with the forces guarding the zone.

Sadr earlier rejected the calls to cancel a planned sit-in of the Green Zone, which he called “a bastion of support for corruption.”

He published a statement on his website on Thursday in response to politicians who asked him to drop the protest over concern that it could lead to violence near the sensitive district, which houses government offices and embassies.

Sadr called for the sit-in last week to press Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to replace cabinet ministers with technocrats unaffiliated with political parties in order to counter systemic political patronage that has abetted corruption.

Sadr, heir to a Shiite clerical dynasty in Shiite majority Iraq, has threatened a no-confidence vote in parliament unless technocratic ministers are named soon.

But his al-Ahrar bloc commands just 34 of 328 seats in parliament, and since he may not be able to vote down an eventual new cabinet, he has had to resort to street protests to maintain pressure on Abadi, leveraging his popularity among the poor in Shi’ite districts of Baghdad.


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