Iraq increases Green Zone security after second breach

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi security forces on Sunday installed additional blast walls and layers of razor wire around the Green Zone after the compound that houses most Iraqi ministries and foreign embassies was breached for a second time.

The new security precautions came two days after hundreds of protesters pushed past police and military guards and stormed the prime minister’s office and the Parliament building. Many protesters were supporters of powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has led months of demonstrations and sit-ins calling for government reforms.

Security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition on the protesters Friday in an attempt to disperse the crowds. The clashes left two people dead and more than 100 wounded. Al-Sadr has since issued a statement condemning the use of force against “peaceful” demonstrations and vowed to continue to support the “revolution” against the government.

The additional Green Zone security has caused massive traffic jams in the Iraqi capital, home to more than seven million people.

“Blocking the bridges is no longer safeguarding the Green Zone,” Nasir al-Zuhairi, a Baghdad resident complained — implying that it would not make the area safer. “This measure will hamper traffic.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi spoke by phone with U.S. President Barack Obama and “agreed on the critical importance of improving the security” of Baghdad and the Green Zone, according to a White House statement.

Iraq’s political crisis has left the government deadlocked as security forces struggle to fight the Islamic State group.

Despite a string of territorial defeats, IS still controls Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul and large swaths of the country’s north and west.

The militant group also claimed responsibility for a series of large-scale bombings in and around Baghdad that killed hundreds.

Iraqi forces announced Thursday that IS had been pushed out of the western town of Rutba, located 240 miles (380 kilometers) west of Baghdad, on the edge of Anbar province.

After securing Rutba, the IS-held city of Fallujah — which lies 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad — will likely be the next battle against IS before Iraqi forces focus on the fight for Mosul, according to the spokesman for the Joint Military Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool.

Iraqi security forces repeated calls for civilians trapped inside Fallujah to flee on Sunday, but the city has been under tight IS control for more than two years and residents say that checkpoints controlled by the extremists along all roads leading out of the city are preventing most from fleeing.

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