Iraqi officials declared a state of emergency in Baghdad Saturday after thousands of protesters climbed over the blast walls of the capital’s fortified international government center and broke into parliament.
Security forces fired tear gas and bullets into the air in an effort to disperse the crowd and stop more demonstrators from entering, Reuters reported.
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The protesters were spurred by resistance leader Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who held a news conference after members of parliament postponed a vote to approve new ministers.
Al-Sadr has accused politicians of blocking reforms against corruption.
“They are against reform, they hope to behead the will of the Iraqi people,” he said of the country’s politicians, according to the Washington Post. “I’m with the people, no matter what they decide. I’m standing and waiting for a major uprising of the Iraqi people.”
While he reportedly did not call for demonstrators to enter the Green Zone, the most secure area in the country and home to many ministries and foreign embassies, he has threatened this action in the past.
Within minutes of his speech, protesters pulled down the heavy concrete walls and also scaled them, according to the Associated Press.
“We are all with you (al-Sadr),” one group of men yelled as they entered the building’s main chamber, the AP reported.
Videos from the scene showed demonstrators smashing vehicles and waving flags, dancing and chanting inside parliament.
The failure to hold the vote for a reshuffle escalated months of demonstrations and sit-ins, as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi keeps promising to reform but is stunted by politicians who don’t want change.
Special forces from Iraq’s army were dispatched in armored vehicles to protect the area, according to Reuters. Roads were also blocked with checkpoints as security tightened around the capital.
Iraq’s political unrest has been exacerbated by multiple crises. Plummeting oil prices have added to economic instability while the country struggles to fight an insurgent Islamic State.
Earlier on Saturday, a truck bombing killed at least 21 people and wounded at least 42 others in a market filled with Shiite civilians. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
This post will be updated as more information becomes available.