Thousands gathered in Baghdad in support of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, pushing past security forces and checkpoints to move closer to the city's Green Zone, a fortified complex that is home to the country's political elite as well as most of the city's foreign embassies.

Initially the bridges leading to the Green Zone were closed to traffic and pedestrians Friday morning after an Interior Ministry statement issued late Thursday night dubbed the protests "unauthorized," but al-Sadr's supporters cut coils of barbed wire and pushed aside barriers to cross Al-Jumhuriya Bridge.

Al-Sadr called for the protests in a show of strength following his calls for government reform.

While Iraq's political leadership has put forward multiple reform plans, progress has been slowed by a weak central government and increasingly sectarian politics.