Prominent Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has started a promised sit-in inside Baghdad’s Green Zone district, vowing to continue the protest action until the government fulfills its pledges for carrying out reforms.
Sadr on Sunday joined his followers at the gates of the area, which is home to many government offices as well as the parliament and foreign embassies, before entering the district and starting the sit-in.
Local media had announced that Sadr arrived in Baghdad on Thursday. The Shia cleric is normally based in the holy city of Najaf, where he enjoys huge public support.
Sadr had vowed earlier that he would enter the Green Zone as a show of discontent with the government’s slow pace of carrying out reforms and tackling corruption. In a statement issued on March 18, the cleric had called the area “a bastion of support for corruption,” prompting his followers to erect tents for a sit-down at the gates of the zone.
Upon entry into the zone, Sadr urged his followers to remain peaceful. His office in Baghdad also issued a statement, ensuring that the protest action will remain peaceful. Protesters, however, chanted slogans at the gates of the zone, saying corrupt ministers in the government “share common thinking” with militants currently wreaking havoc across Iraq.
An official in Sadr’s office said that the general sit-in at the gates of the Green Zone will be extended until “demands for reforms are heard by the government” of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi. Kazim al-Issawi said that the patience of protesters would have its limits.
Sadr had given Abadi until Sunday to enact a plan announced last month for replacing some ministers with unaffiliated technocrats to tackle corruption.
The cleric is from an influential family that is known in Iraq for its steadfastness against former dictator Saddam Hussein. Sadr launched a strong campaign against occupying US troops following their 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Demonstrations have continued for several weeks in the Iraqi capital.