After months of protests, sit-ins and demonstrations outside Baghdad’s Green Zone - home to most ministries and foreign embassies - Saturday’s escalation marks the first time protesters have breached the compound’s walls.
Earlier Saturday, influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr accused Iraqi politicians of blocking efforts to implement political reform aimed at combating corruption and waste.
Increasingly tense protests and a series of failed reform measures have paralysed the government as the country struggles to fight the Islamic State group and respond to an economic crisis sparked in part by a plunge in global oil prices.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for a bombing east of Baghdad on Saturday, according to a statement posted on an IS-affiliated website.
The attack killed at least 21 people and wounded at least 42 others, according to Iraqi police and hospital officials.
The IS statement described the attack as a three-ton lorry bombing.
The attack targeted Shiite civilians shopping in an open-air market selling fruit, vegetables and meat in Nahrawan, according to Iraq’s Interior Ministry.
The IS statement and initial reports from local officials at the scene claimed the bombing targeted Shiite pilgrims walking to Baghdad’s holy Kadhimiyah shrine.
Brigadier General Saad Mann, spokesman for the Interior Ministry and Baghdad Operations Command, said the attack in Baghdad was carried out by IS in response to recent territorial losses in Iraq.
“The only strategic weapon left for them are (suicide bombers),” Brig Gen Mann said.
While IS still controls large swathes of Iraq’s west and north, the group has suffered a series of territorial losses over the past year. Most recently IS fighters were pushed out of the western town of Hit.
In the face of those losses, analysts and Iraqi security officials say the extremist group is increasingly turning to insurgent-style attacks in Baghdad and other areas far from the frontline fighting.