Iraq Baghdad Green Zone protests
Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gather at Grand Festivities Square within the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

Iraqi protesters who stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone in capital Baghdad demanding swift anti-corruption measures from the government have left the area but pledged to return if nothing changes. The demonstrators began to move away from the government citadel on the orders of the influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters formed the majority of the protesters.

The Shia Muslim activists occupied the sensitive zone, off limits to Iraqis, for nearly 24 hours calling for a sit-in. They were primarily frustrated by delays in approving a new cabinet.

Al-Sadr's orders were then broadcast through loudspeakers on 1 May urging his supporters to leave the zone. "We will come back to demand the reforms and to fight against corruption and the corrupted. If our demands are not met, the people will use every legitimate means. At the very least we would take over the headquarters of the three governing powers," Ikhlas al Obeidi, a protest spokesperson, told the rally.

A fresh protest has also been planned for Friday (6 May). A statement from the protesters warned: "If the government doesn't accept our demands we will come back and the first thing we will ask for is the removal of the three presidencies of government and we will also demand an early election."

Sadr, a powerful Shia figure, has been locked in a bitter battle with a divided Iraqi parliament as it has failed to uphold a cabinet reshuffle proposed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also a Shia Muslim. To counter widespread corruption allegations, Abadi had earlier attempted to remove senior party figures and replace them with technocrats. However, the move has long been resisted by parliament.

In a dramatic breach, the protesters thronged the Green Zone on 30 April challenging the government on its anti-corruption drive.

The latest upheaval has come at a time when the government is struggling to combat the Sunni extremist group Islamic State (Isis) and tumbling oil prices.