Followers of Shia cleric protest in Baghdad

Baghdad: Thousands of followers of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, one of the most influential religious and popular figures in Iraq, began anti-corruption sit-in protests under heavy security outside the Green Zone in Baghdad, demanding substantial reforms to confront the country’s economic crisis.

Many of them raised Iraqi flags and chanted slogans calling for comprehensive reforms, including a government reshuffle, better services and an end to corruption.

The protests were held under tight security as thousands of security personnel and riot police were deployed in central Baghdad while military patrols were moving around the government district, Xinhua reported.

Riot police allowed the protesters to pull aside barbed wires put earlier by the security forces to block the nearby bridge and main roads leading to the Green Zone after talks with the leaders of the demonstrators, while hundreds of protesters around noon held their weekly Friday prayers at a Green Zone gate that leads to the parliament building.

Meanwhile, Kadhim al-Essawi, an aide of Sadr, read a statement saying: “Today the rally came under a new title of sit-ins, the demonstrations had ended, and they (protesters) would leave their places only after the implementation of comprehensive reform.”

On Wednesday, the government said it cannot permit anti-corruption sit-in protests by Sadr supporters in Baghdad because it is “against law” and due to security concerns.

Last Friday, Sadr urged his followers during an anti-corruption rally to set up tents for sit-in protests starting next Friday (March 18) in front of the entrances of the Green Zone.