irak flags, IRAQ CRISIS PROTEST.jpg
Photograph: EPA/AHMED JALIL

Hundreds of protesters were camping outside Iraq's parliament in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad on Sunday, a day after they stormed the assembly demanding reforms.

The protesters loyal to influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr eventually left parliament on Saturday night, only to start an open-ended sit-in to push for long-delayed reforms.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi inspected the parliament building once the demonstrators had left and checked the damage caused to some offices, state media reported.

On Saturday, thousands of al-Sadr's loyalists breached the Green Zone and descended on parliament, protesting the delay in approving a cabinet of independents proposed by al-Abadi.

The breach marked a dramatic escalation in the political crisis in Iraq, which is struggling against Islamist insurgents.

President Fouad Massoum has called al-Abadi and parliamentary Speaker Salim al-Jabouri for a crisis meeting on Sunday, a statement from the president's office said.

There is an increased deployment of security forces in the Green Zone, which houses government offices and foreign embassies.

No incidents have been reported between security personnel and those camping outside parliament.

For several months, Iraq was witnessed numerous demonstrations against corruption and inefficient public services.

In response, the Shiite prime minister proposed a package of major reforms, including the formation of a government of independent technocrats. But political blocs in parliament have thwarted the move.

Al-Abadi has warned that the current crisis can hamper the country's US-backed fight against the Islamic State extremist group, which controls key areas in Iraq's Sunni heartland.

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