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The New Arab

Baghdad braces for huge 'Green Zone' protests

Tens of thousands took part in the last protest called by Sadr [AFP]

Date of publication: 4 March, 2016

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Iraqi security forces on Thursday increased security around Baghdad's Green Zone ahead of protests planned by followers of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr against the slow pace of reforms.

Iraqi security forces on Thursday implemented stringent security measure around the fortified Green Zone in the centre of Baghdad ahead of large-scale protests planned for Friday by followers of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Sadr last week led tens of thousands of his followers in Baghdad's Tahrir Square to protest the lack of real government reforms and called for a larger protest outside the Green Zone, which houses Iraq's cabinet, parliament and other government offices.

A military source in Baghdad's operational command told The New Arab that security forces had blocked the main routes leading to the Green Zone.

The sources who wished to remain anonymous added that special forces and riot police were also heavily deployed ahead of Friday morning's protests.

The Shia cleric had called on his supporters to storm the Green Zone if their demands were not met, raising serious security fears.

However on Thursday he softened his tone, saying that such an action should only be taken after the time limit given to the government to implement "fundamental reforms" has passed.

Sadr who is echoing the demands of Iraqi protests that erupted last year is calling for the formation of a technocratic government whose members are not controlled by rival political parties.

On 12 February, the leader of the Sadrist movement gave Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi an ultimatum: to form a new technocratic government within 45 days or the movement will storm the Green Zone.

As Iraq grapples with egregious corruption, officials from Sadr's own political movement have been accused of being some of the worst offenders, but the cleric has recently tried to distance himself from the Sadrist bloc.

Last Friday, he claimed that "none of the government members represent" him.

While Sadr has publicly criticised Abadi over the pace of reforms and his foreign policy, he has been generally more supportive of the premier than many other Shia factions in government.

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