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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Protesters leave Baghdad’s Green Zone as Iraq’s leaders promise reforms

Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi and other political leaders on Sunday promised to deliver radical reforms as protesters ended a sit-in inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified government district.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi inspects the damage caused by protesters after storming the Iraqi parliament building in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, Baghdad, Iraq, 01 May 2016.   EPA/IRAQI PRIME MINISTER OFFICE
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi inspects the damage caused by protesters after storming the Iraqi parliament building in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, Baghdad, Iraq, 01 May 2016. EPA/IRAQI PRIME MINISTER OFFICE

BAGHDAD // Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi and other political leaders on Sunday promised to deliver radical reforms as protesters ended a sit-in inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified government district.

Iraq has endured months of feuding prompted by Mr Al Abadi’s attempt to replace party-affiliated ministers with technocrats as part of an anti-corruption drive. A divided parliament has failed to approve the proposal amid scuffles and protests.

Deep frustration among Iraqis over the deadlock culminated in a breach of the Green Zone on Saturday by supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sadr.

Mr Al Sadr wants Mr Al Abadi’s proposed technocrat government approved, ending a quota system he says has encouraged corruption.

Powerful parties have resisted, fearing the dismantling of patronage networks that have sustained the political elite’s wealth and influence for more than a decade.

Mr Al Abadi has warned that continued turmoil could hamper the war against ISIL, which controls parts of northern and western Iraq.

The prime minister convened a high-level meeting on Sunday with Iraq’s president, parliament speaker and political bloc leaders. Former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki, who heads the Dawa Party, and representatives of Sadr were not there.

In a statement from the presidential residence after the

meeting, the leaders said meetings would continue in coming days “to ensure radical reforms of the political process”.

They also called the breach of the Green Zone “a dangerous infringement of the state’s prestige and a blatant constitutional violation that must be prosecuted”.

A few hours later, the protest organisers said the demonstrators would withdraw from the Green Zone.

The Green Zone has been off-limits to most Iraqis since the United States-led invasion in 2003. Hundreds of people breached its concrete blast walls on Saturday. They moved to Grand Festivities Square as security reinforcements arrived from the army, police and Sadr’s militia.

Many protesters, including some women and children, remained in the square on Sunday morning but started to leave after their leaders issued the statement through Mr Al Sadr’s office.

Earlier, riot police, Humvees fixed with machine guns, and an armoured military vehicle were stationed around the sit-in area but protesters were permitted to come and go freely.

A demonstrator named Humam entered the Green Zone on Saturday. The 32-year-old was shocked by the contrast between the poverty in which most Iraqis live and the luxury inside the central district, which he had never entered before.

“There is electricity and street lighting, there is more water here than I expected,” he said. “Even the plants are different.

“It is the people’s right to enter this area because [the politicians] are living in conditions that don’t even exist in Iraq.

“I didn’t imagine this existed in Iraq.”

* Reuters