Protesters quit Baghdad’s Green Zone

Media captionFor months, protesters have been demanding reform of what they see as a deeply corrupt system

Shia Muslim activists who occupied Iraq’s parliament on Saturday have begun to leave Baghdad’s government district.

Organisers used loudspeakers to call an end to the sit-in in the Green Zone.

Earlier, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the arrest of those who had stormed parliament.

The demonstrators, mostly supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, were angered by delays in approving a new cabinet.

The protesters accuse the government of neglecting much-needed reforms, as it struggles with its campaign against the so-called Islamic State group and declining oil revenues.

IS, a Sunni Muslim group that controls parts of western and northern Iraq, claimed a twin suicide bombing on Sunday that killed at least 33 people and wounded more than 50 in the southern town of Samawa.

Fears of a Shia rift: Analysis by Ahmed Maher, BBC News, Baghdad

Many Iraqis believe the crisis has unveiled deep divisions between the Shia political parties that could lead to armed confrontation between some of the Shia brigades which were formed after the collapse of large units of the Iraqi army in the summer of 2014.

Leaders of these powerful Shia brigades have ordered reinforcements to Baghdad to help secure the capital, along with the Iraqi army and security forces.

In parliament, some leading Shia parties have locked horns over their share in the new cabinet line-up. Many prominent Shia politicians, like former Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, are highly critical of Shia cleric-turned-politician Moqtada Sadr. Mr Maliki said change could not be achieved through “intimidation or the occupation of the Green Zone”. Many Shia Iraqis see Mr Sadr as a leader for their uprising.

The fear of a rift between Shia factions will stoke instability in Iraq, which is already at war with IS. And the crisis will alarm key allies like the US, which count on a stable, strong government to defeat the militant group.

Supporters of Mr Sadr want MPs to push through plans to replace ministers with political affiliations with non-partisan unelected officials.

Powerful parties in parliament have refused to approve the change for several weeks.

‘We need new faces’

A statement by the protest organisers, quoted by AFP news agency on Sunday evening, cited respect for a Shia pilgrimage as the reason for withdrawing.

Saturday’s occupation of parliament came after MPs again failed to reach a quorum to vote on the cabinet changes.

After the protest, demonstrators set up camp outside the parliament, and many were still there on Sunday.

“We need new faces not the old ones,” female protester Shatha Jumaa, a 58-year-old surgeon who described herself as a secularist, told the Associated Press news agency.

She said she wanted the current government dissolved and replaced by a small interim administration whose job would be to amend the constitution and to prepare for an early national election.

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Protesters could be seen streaming out of the Green Zone at dusk on Sunday

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Facebook/Haider al-Abadi

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Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi visited the damaged parliament building on Saturday after protesters left

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The Shia protesters had unfurled banners inside parliament during their occupation on Saturday

Mr Abadi issued his arrest order after touring the Green Zone on Saturday, but there are no indications that any arrests have taken place.

The zone, a highly fortified area 10 sq km (3.9 sq miles) in size, is home to key government buildings and foreign embassies.

It is ringed by blast walls, some of which were toppled by the protesters as they breached the zone for the first time in weeks of civil unrest.

Corruption burden

Mr Abadi, who came to power in 2014, has promised to stamp out corruption and ease sectarian tensions.

Iraq’s system of sharing government jobs has long been criticised for promoting unqualified candidates and encouraging corruption.

The government is carefully balanced between party and religious loyalties but the country ranks 161st of 168 on corruption watchdog Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index.

Media captionOne of the blasts could be clearly heard on mobile phone footage

Few details were immediately available about the double bombing in Samawa. Police say the blasts came within minutes of each other, the first outside a local government office, the second at a bus station.

IS said it had targeted police in the mainly Shia town, about 240km (148 miles) south-east of the capital.

The country has been riven for years by deadly sectarian violence between the Shia majority and Sunnis.

Who is Moqtada Sadr?

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The Shia cleric and his militia group, the Mehdi Army, gained prominence after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. galvanising anti-US sentiment.

Mr Sadr’s followers clashed repeatedly with US forces, whose withdrawal the cleric consistently demanded.

An arrest warrant was issued for Mr Sadr in 2004 in connection with the murder of a rival cleric.

His militia was also blamed for the torture and killing of thousands of Sunnis in the sectarian carnage of 2006 and 2007. Mr Sadr fled to Iran during that period.

In 2011, Mr Sadr returned from his self-imposed exile to Iraq, taking a more conciliatory tone and calling for Iraqi unity and peace.

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