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Thousands march on Baghdad's Green Zone protesting corruption

Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr calls for technocrats to replace Iraq's cabinet ministers as masses protest at edges of fortified zone
Supporters of Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr wave national flags during a demonstration calling for governmental reforms earlier this year (AFP)

Thousands of protesters converged on the Green Zone in Baghdad on Friday, protesting corruption and calling for the replacement of government ministers.

The demonstration, which was not authorised by the Iraqi government, was called by the influential Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Several roads and bridges into the capital were closed off. Video footage released on social media appeared to show protesters breaking through a security checkpoint, while chanting “We sacrifice our life and blood to you oh Iraq”:

On Thursday, Sadr condemned the Green Zone - a heavily fortified area of the city housing Iraq's parliament and diplomatic buildings - as "a bastion of support for corruption".

Protesters were heard to chant "let's get rid of them, they're all thieves!" as they attempted to break into the zone with the intention of holding Friday prayers at the Green Zone gate leading to the parliament building.

Tents were reportedly being installed around midday in Baghdad, in apparent preparation for a sit-in.

Sadr has called for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to replace the country’s cabinet ministers with non-political technocrats in order to counteract rampant government corruption.

Iraq has regularly been labelled one of the world’s most corrupt nations. Transparency International currently labels it 161 out of 168 countries in its Corruptions Perceptions Index.

Anti-corruption protests have been taking place on a regular basis since last summer, following outrage over power outages.

Initially the protests were largely free from the influence of the powerful Shia Islamist groups.

However, the introduction of the fiercely nationalistic and charismatic Sadr into the fray has worried some who fear the growing influence of Islamist forces.

Sadr has previously positioned himself as a spokesperson for the anti-corruption campaigners, despite a number of Sadr MPs also facing allegations of corruption.

"These protests are increasing the pressure on the government to deliver what was promised in 2014 when it was elected and then again in August 2015 when the protests first started," Hayder al-Shakeri, an activist and development worker based in Baghdad, told Middle East Eye.

"Muqtada Al-Sadr's influence does undermine the protests integrity since he has been in and out of the political process in the country, but right now he is playing the right cards and the government will have to respond to the demands soon."

Abadi has been involved in pushing through various reforms since August 2015 aiming to cull various positions, including the roles of vice-president and their vast entourages of officials. However, many fear that the prime minister doesn’t have the power to address the pervasive problem.

Mishan al-Jabouri, a member of a parliamentary committee set up to tackle corruption, has warned that anti-corruption campaigners are fighting a losing battle.

“There is no solution,” he told the Guardian in February. “Everybody is corrupt, from the top of society to the bottom. Everyone. Including me.”

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