Protesters were withdrawing from Baghdad’s Green Zone today after breaking into the fortified area and storming Iraq’s parliament in an unprecedented security breach the day before.
The move, which lessens the pressure on politicians in Baghdad, came as rare bombings in the south killed 33 people and wounded dozens.
“The protest organising committee announces the withdrawal of the demonstrators from the Green Zone,” it said in a statement, citing respect for a major Shiite pilgrimage as the reason for their departure.
The statement was distributed by the office of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters make up the vast majority of the demonstrators.
Demonstrator Hussein al-Ali said that the announcement was made at the square where protesters had gathered, and that they accepted it and complied.
Protesters pulled down or scaled slabs of heavy concrete blast wall yesterday to enter the Green Zone, where Iraq‘s main government institutions are located, the culmination of weeks of political turmoil and inaction by parliament.
Some remained overnight, and hundreds of people combined a festive demonstration with sight-seeing in the previously off-limits area.
Protesters waving flags clapped and chanted slogans in front of a grandstand from which Saddam Hussein once delivered addresses, in a square bordered by giant statues of twin crossed swords held in hands said to have been modelled on Saddam’s own.
The Green Zone breach allowed Iraqis access to places they have rarely if ever been able to enter before.
“This is the first time I’ve been here since I came with my school under Saddam,” said 32-year-old Yusef al-Assadi, who took a “selfie” in front of the monument to the unknown soldier.
Assadi said it was striking “how rich this place is. Here, there is air conditioning and electricity everywhere, but the people of Iraq suffer from power cuts all the time.”
Many Iraqi politicians live in luxury, while most average citizens make do with abysmal services that include only a few hours of government-provided electricity per day at the height of summer.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office said he had ordered the pursuit of people involved in attacks or vandalism, but security forces were not taking action against protesters inside the Green Zone today.
Protesters on Saturday attacked at least one MP as well as cars they believed belonged to lawmakers, and broke into offices in parliament.