Followers of cleric storm Iraqi parliament

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Iraqi demonstrators have stormed the parliament building in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone to protest an Iran-backed alliance's candidate for prime minister amid months of political deadlock, witnesses say.

Security officers in the Green Zone - which houses the parliament, government buildings and foreign embassies - fired smoke bombs to disperse the demonstrators, most of whom were followers of Iraq's influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

They were nevertheless still able to stream into the streets and gain entry to parliament.

Witnesses reported casualties among the protesters due to gunfire from unknown people inside the zone.

Iraqi independent portal Alsumari News quoted a security source as saying three protesters were injured.

TV footage purportedly showed demonstrators inside the parliament, with some waving the Iraqi flag.

Demonstrators began withdrawing following a call from al-Sadr to his supporters to leave "safely" home, Alsumaria TV reported.

"Your message has come across, you the loved ones. You've terrified the corrupt ones," the popular cleric also wrote to his Shiite supporters on Twitter.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khadimi also called on protesters to leave.

Wednesday's unrest came after thousands of al-Sadr's backers gathered outside the Green Zone to voice their opposition to the candidacy of Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as prime minister.

Al-Sudani, an ex-government minister, is backed by a rival pro-Iran political alliance.

The protesters raised the Iraqi flag and pictures of al-Sadr, whose bloc secured 73 seats in the 329-strong parliament in legislative election held in October last year.

While the Sadrist bloc increased its seats in the October polls compared to the previous parliament, pro-Iranian groups suffered significant losses.

But, last month, the Sadrist bloc quit parliament amid a political stalemate over forming a new government in the country.

By custom, Iraq's parliamentary speaker is a Sunni Muslim, the prime minister is a Shiite and the president a Kurd.

Many Iraqis have little faith in political players as oil-rich Iraq has been struggling with economic and political crises for years.

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