Volunteers locked back and forth in a fleet of pickups in Iraq’s normally safe Green Zone on Saturday as protesters occupied parliament earlier in the day, settling in for the long haul.
Thousands of demonstrators had crossed the barriers guarding the complex and camped in and outside parliament as supporters were given hot food and bottles of cold water.
One man lit a fire to heat tea while another offered cigarettes for sale – as Iraqi security forces watched, an AFP correspondent reported.
Inside the Parliament House, some protesters sat at the desks of MPs, while others picked up their mobile phones to film the capture.
Devotees recite religious chants marking the Muslim month of Muharram, which begins on a Sunday and is an important period in the Shia religious calendar.
In the gardens outside, protesters erected a large camouflage tent at the entrance as women with children joined other supporters of Shia cleric Muktada Sadar in setting up camp.
Sadr, a former militia leader whose faction emerged from the October elections as the largest parliamentary faction, has a devoted following among Iraq’s Shia-majority community.
“It is Muktada Sadar who decides,” said the protester Umm Mahdi, in a black robe from head to toe.
“When he tells us to go home, we will leave,” she said, adding that she has four children, among them a newborn baby and three cousins.
“The most important thing is to obey Sayyid,” she said, using the respectful reference to Sadar.
Zainab Hussain said he had “left his home and his family” to join the dharna.
Like many protesters, Hussein wanted an end to corruption, saying he had denied even basic services to oil-rich Iraq.
“Why is there no electricity in Iraq?” He asked. “Where is all the oil money going?”
The immediate trigger for the storming of the Saddarists’ parliament was the nomination of a candidate for the post of premiership of a rival Shia bloc.
But outrage over corruption and poor public services is a complaint shared by almost all Iraqis.
“Corruption has infected all government departments,” complained Syed Haider, a 35-year-old daily wage worker from the Baghdad Shia district of Sadar city.
“Nobody can get anything from a state or government ministry without having ties to a political party.”
As a result of previous deals, the Saddarists also have their representatives at the highest levels of government ministries, but in the eyes of the protesters, this does nothing to diminish the status of the cleric.
“He is the only person in Iraq who is standing up for the poor,” Haider said.