Influential Iraqi cleric quits politics, sparks deadly protests

At least 10 Iraqis were killed on Monday after powerful Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said he would give up politics, prompting his loyalists to storm a palatial government complex in Baghdad and led to clashes with rival Shia groups.

As night fell, machine gunfire and explosions rang out, with the marker flames rising into the sky above the Green Zone, home to government headquarters and foreign embassies, in the worst of the fighting. the Iraqi capital has seen in years.

After a day of violence prompted by Sadr announced that he would withdraw from all political activity – a decision he said was in response to the failure of other Shi’ite leaders and parties to reform a corrupt and corrupt management system.

Sadr later said he was on hunger strike to protest the use of weapons by all parties.

In addition to the 10 people killed, several dozen people were injured, police and medical staff said.

The photo just shows a man dressed in black with a hood, in front of the Iraqi flag.
Al-Sadr, seen here on August 3, said on Monday that he would withdraw from politics, prompting his loyalists to storm a government complex. Ten Iraqis died in the clashes. (Alaa Al-Marjani / Reuters)

“I announce my final withdrawal,” Sadr announced earlier on Twitter, criticizing fellow Shia political leaders for not heeding his calls for reform.

Clashes broke out hours after that announcement, prompting his supporters, who had held a week-long meeting of parliament in the Green Zone, to protest and storm his headquarters. Cabinet. Some jumped into the pool at the palace, cheering and waving flags.

The Iraqi military has declared a nationwide curfew and urged protesters to leave the Green Zone.

A group of about a few dozen protesters in a swimming pool, one holding a photo of Muqtada al-Sadr.
Some al-Sadr supporters jumped into the palace swimming pool after trespassing on the Baghdad complex, which serves as the seat of government. (Alaa Al-Marjani / Reuters)

Sadr has called for the dissolution of parliament

In the midst of an impasse over forming a new government, Sadr rallied his supporters, scuttling Iraq’s efforts to recover from decades of conflict and sanctions and efforts. efforts to deal with sectarian conflict and rampant corruption.

Sadr, who has garnered widespread support by opposing both the United States and Iran’s influence on Iraqi politics, was the biggest winner from the October election but withdrew all the houses. his legislator from parliament in June after he failed to form a government that excluded his opponents, mainly Tehran, the Shia-backed parties.

Sadr insisted on early elections and dissolution of parliament. He said that no politician who has been in power since the US invasion in 2003 can hold office.

In Monday’s announcement, Sadr said he would close his offices without giving details, though he said cultural and religious facilities would remain open.

Sadr’s decision raises dangerous tensions between armed Shia groups. Many Iraqis worry that the moves of individual Shia camps could lead to new civil strife.

“The [Iran] Kadhim Haitham, a supporter of Sadr, said.

A group of men inside the government complex, with one in the middle holding a flag in one hand and flashing a peace sign in the other.
Al-Sadr supporters enter the Government Palace during a protest in Baghdad. Monday’s chaos raised fears that violence could erupt in a country already beset by its worst political crisis in years. (Hadi Mizban / The Associated Press)

Longest Iraq without a government

Pro-Iran groups have blamed terrorists for the clashes and denied having fired on anyone. “That’s not true. If our people have guns why should they throw stones?” A militia member, who asked not to be named, said.

Sadr has retreated from politics and government in the past and has also disbanded militias loyal to him. But he retained extensive influence over state institutions and controlled a paramilitary group with thousands of members.

He often returns to politics after similar announcements, although the current impasse in Iraq seems more difficult to resolve than in previous periods of turmoil.

The current stalemate between Sadr and Shia rivals has left Iraq with the longest period without a government.

Clever clerical supporters first stormed the Green Zone in July. Since then, they have occupied parliament, blocking the process of choosing a new president and prime minister.

Sadr’s ally Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who remains prime minister, has suspended cabinet meetings until further notice after Sadrist protesters stormed the government headquarters on Monday.

Iraq has struggled to recover since the defeat of the Islamic State in 2017 as political parties jostle for power and the vast oil wealth that Iraq, OPEC’s second-biggest producer, owns. possess.

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