Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has urged pro-reform demonstrators to “respect the law” ahead of a fresh protest rally planned to be held outside the fortified Green Zone in the capital Baghdad.
In televised remarks on Thursday, Abadi signaled that security guards may take a harder line should the protesters make a new attempt to storm Baghdad’s Green zone, which is home to key government buildings, foreign embassies and media organizations.
“Those who want reform must respect the law,” said the Iraqi premier, stressing that “plans have been put in place to protect the constitutional institutions and prevent what happened recently from being repeated.”
He made the comments on the eve of a new pro-reform gathering less than a week after hundreds of outraged protesters broke into the restricted Green Zone.
The demonstrators want government reforms amid allegations of corruption and nepotism.
Many of the demonstrators were supporters of the prominent cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The protesters left the parliament building late on Saturday. They withdrew from the Green Zone peacefully later on Sunday.
On Wednesday, Abadi sacked Staff Lieutenant General Mohammed Ridha, the commander of Special Forces in the Green Zone, after last weekend’s violent protest rally.
The appointment of a new security chief for the area may indicate that security forces will take tough action against them if they attempt to re-enter the Green Zone.
The protests broke out after lawmakers failed to approve new ministers proposed by Abadi last month in a number of consecutive parliamentary sessions.
Abadi wants to replace the current cabinet of party-affiliated ministers to be replaced by a government of technocrats, but he has faced stiff opposition from powerful political parties seeking to maintain their grip on ministries for patronage and funds.
The crisis in Iraq’s political scene comes at a critical juncture as the country is engaged in heavy fighting with Daesh Takfiri terror groups controlling swathes of Iraqi land since 2014.