Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has called for the arrests of protesters who stormed the parliament, clashed with police and broke the barricades of Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone.
Abadi’s statement on Sunday came a day after hundreds of followers of the influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr tore down blast walls and poured into the parliament building, exacerbating a long-simmering political crisis.
The statement ordered “the interior minister to track down the perpetrators who assaulted the security forces, the citizens and members of the council of representatives and were involved in vandalising public property and to present them to court so they can have a fair trial and face justice”.
Videos on social media showed a group of young men surrounding and slapping two Iraqi legislators as they attempted to flee the crowd, while other protesters mobbed motorcades.
Protesters were also seen jumping and dancing on the parliament’s meeting hall tables and chairs and waving Iraqi flags.
The protesters eventually left the parliament on Saturday night and rallied in a nearby square.
Sadr and his supporters want the political system, put in place following the US-led invasion in 2003, to be reformed.
As it stands, entrenched political blocs representing the country’s Shias, Sunnis and Kurds rely on patronage, resulting in widespread corruption and poor public services. The major blocs have until now blocked Abadi’s reform efforts.
Meanwhile, in southern Iraq, two suicide car bombs claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group killed at least 32 people and wounded 75, police and medics said.
Sunday’s first blast was near a local government building and the second one about 60 metres away at a bus station in the centre of the southern Iraqi city of Samawa.
In the capital, protesters vowed to continue their sit-in inside the Green Zone until their demands are met.
“We are fed up, we are living a humiliated life,” Rasool Hassan, 37, told the Associated Press from the square where thousands of protesters had gathered.
“We’ll leave here only when the corrupt government is replaced with another of independent technocrats that serves the people, not the political parties.”
Iraq has been mired in political crisis for months, hindering the government’s ability to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), which still controls much of the country’s north and west, or address a financial crisis largely prompted by the plunge in global oil prices.
The United Nations mission to Iraq said it was gravely concerned. It issued a statement condemning violence against elected officials and urging “calm, restraint and respect for Iraq’s constitutional institutions at this crucial juncture”.