Supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr storm Green Zone and Iraq parliament

The breach marked a major escalation in the country’s political crisis following months of ­anti-government protests.

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 April, 2016, 10:10pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 April, 2016, 10:10pm

Hundreds of protesters climbed over the blast walls surrounding Baghdad’s highly fortified Green Zone for the first time on Saturday and stormed into parliament, carrying Iraqi flags and chanting against the government.

The breach marked a major escalation in the country’s political crisis following months of ­anti-government protests, sit-ins and demonstrations by supporters of influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The Green Zone is home to most ministries and foreign embassies and has long been the focus of Sadr’s criticism of the government.

Earlier on Saturday, Sadr ­accused Iraqi politicians of blocking political reforms aimed at combating corruption and waste. While Sadr didn’t call for an ­escalation to the protests, shortly after his remarks his supporters began scaling the compound’s walls. A group of young men then pulled down a section of concrete blast walls to cheers from the crowd of thousands gathered in the streets outside.

Cellphone video uploaded to social media showed dozens of young men running through the halls of parliament, chanting ­slogans in support of Sadr and demanding that the government be disbanded.

“We are all with you [Sadr],” one group of men yelled as they entered the main chamber.

Increasingly tense protests and a series of failed reform measures have paralysed Iraq’s government as the country struggles to fight the Islamic State group and respond to an economic crisis sparked in part by a plunge in global oil prices.

A broad-based protest movement last summer mobilised millions and pressured Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to submit a proposal to reduce the size

of the Cabinet and replace political appointees with independent technocrats. But that proposal has been stalled in the face of Iraq’s entrenched political blocs, and in recent months Sadr’s movement has come to monopolise the protests.

Earlier yesterday, a bombing in a market filled with Shiite civilians in Baghdad killed at least 21 people and wounded at least 42 others, according to police and hospital officials. Islamic State claimed the attack.