IRAQ

Protesters Say Green Zone Takeover Was ‘Highly Organized’

Even Saddam's daughter shared images of the protesters inside Iraq's parliament building

IRAQ
No longer an exclusive zone for the few. — REUTERS
May 03, 2016 at 3:39 PM ET

For all but a handful of Iraqis, the Green Zone in the center of the capital has always been a most exclusive enclave for the wealthy, powerful and corrupt. Ordinary citizens wishing to enter the fortified area were forced to endure long waits at checkpoints and often humiliating searches—and the queues are often the target of suicide bombers, making the trip to the government’s nerve center potentially deadly.

And so, this weekend, when hundreds of protesters breached the security barriers and took over the parliament building—strolling across its green promenades and backflipping into its water fountains—many people around the country and the world were overjoyed.

“You could see the feelings on people’s faces—the feeling of getting something after years of waiting. The feeling of an oppressed group of people, finally confronting their oppressor from a position of power,” said Rashad Saadi, a 35-year-old gold vendor. He spoke to Vocativ through social media about the protests.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has been under intense pressure to bring in more technocrats and sift out the politicians from his cabinet many deem to be corrupt. His ability to do anything however has been continually disrupted by the legislature, including members of the party of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which has been part of a sit-in against in protest of governmental corruption.

Those protests denied the prime minister the opportunity last week to even address parliament. At one point lawmakers broke out in scuffles amongst themselves, punching each other and hurling water bottles at each other.

Another demonstrator who went by the name of Abu Fadak said the entry into the Green Zone was not the spontaneous uprising many described it as, but a planned maneuver.

“We arrived in a highly organized way,” he told Vocativ. “We arrived with our cars into the center of Baghdad and from them we went to the gates of the Green Zone.” He also vowed that the protesters would return if the politicians didn’t make the changes the people wanted.

“We will be back in the Green Zone if they don’t meet our demands, but this time, we’ll be there in bigger numbers,” he said. “This is a corrupt government, we have to get rid of them.”

Online a Facebook page purportedly supported by the daughter of former strongman Saddam Hussein posted images from the inside of the government building showing protesters taking over.

Across social media users shared scenes of people enjoying themselves inside the Green Zone.

Saadi and others Vocativ contacted online insist that there was barely any damage meted out by protesters when they finally got inside.

“The most beautiful thing is that the protesters acted with restraint,” he said. “And the pictures that were published showing them crushing the walls are a lie. They didn’t destroy it, I was there myself. The protest is peaceful and will be peaceful until the last moment.”