Hundreds of protesters stormed Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone on Saturday and entered the Parliament building, demanding an end to corruption. A day later, they began to leave. What brought on this chaos, and why did it end so quickly?

What really happened?

Images of Iraqis storming Parliament over the weekend made it seem as though a popular revolution were at hand. In reality, it was something else: partly a legitimate expression of popular anger, but partly political theater.

The episode had to be somewhat condoned by the authorities, given the ease with which the protesters were able to pass through the fortresslike security. There were reports that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had tacitly supported the breach, although his office denied that. And a militia aligned with the protesters took over security around Parliament, suggesting a deal with the security forces.

There were reports of lawmakers’ being attacked and slapped, but no one was seriously hurt. Protesters did attack the fancy vehicles of lawmakers — the detested black SUVs that barrel through Baghdad traffic, sirens ringing — and damaged furniture, desks and wall hangings in the hall of Parliament. But all in all, it was largely nonviolent.

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Image courtesy of Reuters