Biden visits Baghdad at ‘good time’ then state of emergency declared as protesters take Iraqi parliament

The Washington Post reports: Protesters stormed Iraq’s parliament on Saturday, bursting into the capital’s fortified Green Zone, where other key buildings, including the U.S. Embassy, are located.

Live footage on Iraqi television showed swarms of protesters, who have been demanding government reform, inside the parliament building, waving flags and chanting. Lawmakers were berated and beaten with flags as they fled the building, while demonstrators smashed the windows of politicians’ cars.

Baghdad Operations Command declared a state of emergency and said all roads into the capital had been closed. A U.S. Embassy official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that staff were not being evacuated from their compound, which is about a mile away from the parliament building.

Iraq is in the grip of a political crisis, with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi attempting to reshuffle his cabinet and meet the demands of the demonstrators, who have been spurred on by the powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But Abadi has been hampered by chaotic parliament sessions, where lawmakers have thrown water bottles and punches at one another.

The political unrest has brought a new level of instability to a country that is facing multiple crises, including the fight against the Islamic State militant group and the struggling economy. [Continue reading…]

Earlier, the Wall Street Journal reported: Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Baghdad on Thursday at a time of growing concern in the White House about the potential collapse of the government in Baghdad amid political turmoil.

Mr. Biden, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Iraq since the rise of Islamic State and the withdrawal of American troops in 2011, met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other government officials. Afterward, he flew to Erbil to meet with Kurdish leaders.

President Barack Obama expressed concern about the stability of Mr. Abadi’s government last week, after meeting with Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Obama said the U.S. planned to “assess how the current government turmoil in Iraq plays itself out over the next couple of weeks” before deciding on new aid to Baghdad.

Senior administration officials briefing reporters on the Biden trip spoke more optimistically about developments in Baghdad. “In the last few days, things have trended in a more stabilizing direction,” one official said. “So it’s actually a good time to be here.”

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