BAGHDAD – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi replaced the commander of a military division tasked with protecting the heavily fortified Green Zone Thursday after hundreds of angry anti-government protesters broke into the parliament building last week.
On Saturday hundreds of protesters, mainly followers of Iraq's influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, knocked down concrete blast walls and broke into the parliament building, damaging furniture and slapping some lawmakers who tried to flee. Security forces stood idle with some seen kissing and shaking hands with the protesters.
Cabinet spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said al-Abadi issued a decree to replace staff Lt. Gen. Mohammed Ridha due to "the breach and assaults against the government institution."
Al-Sadr's supporters have been holding demonstrations and sit-ins for months to demand an overhaul of the political system put in place by the U.S. following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
In March, Ridha was seen kissing al-Sadr's hands when the cleric entered the Green Zone to start a brief protest sit-in in a tent.
The storming was a major escalation of a political crisis that has simmered for months. The crisis has hindered the government's efforts to address a worsening financial situation resulting from low oil prices and combat the Islamic State group, which still controls much of northern and western Iraq.