Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr raise the Iraqi flag outside parliament in Baghdad's Green Zone,  April 30, 2016.
Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr raise the Iraqi flag outside parliament in Baghdad's Green Zone, April 30, 2016.

Hundreds of chanting, flag-waving supporters of Iraq’s mercurial Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr stormed the Iraqi parliament Saturday after breaking into Baghdad’s government-controlled Green Zone.

Cellphone video uploaded to social media showed dozens of young men running through the halls of parliament, chanting slogans in support of Sadr and calling for the government to disband.

Iraqi security forces fired tear gas at one entrance of the zone but appeared to be largely standing down as protesters marched through the area.

Iraqi media reported that the large crowd inside parliament was “destroying furniture and electrical equipment.”

The Iraqi government’s Baghdad Operations Command declared a “state of emergency” inside the capital shortly after the incursion began. Hours later, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called on the protesters to return to areas set aside for demonstrations and not to infringe on public property.

Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr walk o
Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr walk over the blast walls surrounding Baghdad’s highly fortified Green Zone, April 30, 2016.

As night fell, the demonstrators set up tents inside the Green Zone, which houses government ministries, the parliament and foreign embassies, including the U.S. Embassy. 

U.N. and Western diplomats said their compounds remained on lockdown. Arab media reported that the U.N. and several foreign embassies were evacuating personnel, but VOA could not independently confirm the reports.

Most Iraqi political leaders, including the president, prime minister and parliament speaker, live inside the Green Zone, and it was not clear whether troops were continuing to protect them.

Supporters of Sadr had been demonstrating outside the Green Zone for months, responding to their leader's call to put pressure on Abadi to follow through on months-old reform promises, including replacing politically appointed ministers with nonpartisan technocrats.

Sadr had warned in a televised speech earlier in the day that a popular uprising or revolution would take place to put an end to corruption in the government.

Prior to Saturday's incursion, a session of parliament had failed to reach a quorum to vote on a Cabinet reshuffle proposed by Abadi. Some ministers were approved earlier in the week despite disruptions by dissenting lawmakers.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met top Iraqi leaders during a visit to Baghdad several days ago to discuss the political situation and military operations inside the country to defeat Islamic State militants.

VOA's Edward Yeranian contributed to this report from Cairo.

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