Thousands of Iraqi protesters stormed Baghdad's Green Zone Saturday, braving tear gas and stun-grenades to breach the country's parliament for a second time in a week. Supporters of Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who won Iraq's last parliamentary elections, are trying to block pro-Iranian parties from naming their own choice to be the next prime minister.
Dozens of injured protesters were taken to hospitals amid the heat and clamor. Iraqi state TV reported that 100 protesters were injured, and 25 members of the country's security forces were also injured. The TV channel showed the health minister visiting the injured in the hospital.
Outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi called on protesters to remain calm and avoid attacking security forces, in a speech on state TV.
He says that he calls on protesters to act with calm, patience and wisdom, to avoid provoking conflicts, and to respect the security forces and other state institutions. He insisted the fires of sectarian conflict will burn everyone and urged all Iraqis to remain united and cooperate.
Kadhimi went on to say that the "solution to the current crisis is political and will come from an honest dialogue and concessions that are in the interests of Iraq and its people."
Shiite political leader Ammar al-Hakim urged Sadr and his supporters to "negotiate with pro-Iranian political parties," and their nominal head, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Iraqi media reported that Maliki also wants to negotiate.
A top Sadr supporter, Sheikh Jabbar al-Mamouri, told Iraqi media that Sadr is not the cause of the conflict, and all Iraqis are opposed to pro-Iranian proxy forces.
He says it seems clear that a new candidate for prime minister must be chosen (rather than the pro-Iranian alliance's choice, Mohammed al-Sudani). He says it is not Muqtada al-Sadr's conflict, but everyone's. The pro-Iran militias, he adds, are out of control and must not dictate their will to everyone else.
Muqtada al-Sadr's political bloc won the largest number of seats in parliament in the elections last year but withdrew his members from the body after months of opposition from pro-Iranian forces.
Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, tells VOA that Sadr should be naming the next Iraqi prime minister because his party won the election, and not former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who he said allowed much harm to the country by not stopping the Islamic State group from wreaking havoc.
He says that Sadr is seeking a political consensus in Iraq to fashion a new equilibrium between the country's various components. Iran's political clout, he argues, is on the wane in Iraq, as well as in Syria, since the death of its former military commander, General Qassim Soleimani.
Iraqi analyst Alaa Mustapha told state TV that "the world is watching the Iraq situation with concern because if the crisis continues, it could paralyze the Iraqi economy and stop the flow of oil, cause world oil prices to rise and damage the world economy."