Clashes kill 10 as Iraq’s Sadr quits politics, loyalists storm complex

Date:

  • Loyalists of rival Shia groups skirmish in the streets
  • Political stalemate leaves Iraq’s recovery in limbo
  • Cleric wants parliament to be dissolved, early elections

BAGHDAD, Aug. 29 (Reuters) – At least 10 Iraqis were killed Monday after powerful Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said he would retire from politics, prompting his loyalists to storm a palatial government complex in Baghdad, sparking clashes with rival Shia groups.

Young men loyal to Sadr attacked the government headquarters in Baghdad’s secure Green Zone, once a palace of dictator Saddam Hussein, and took to the streets outside the area where they clashed with supporters of rival Tehran-backed groups.

As gunfire reverberated across the capital, some people were seen firing weapons at the ranks of Sadr’s supporters, Reuters witnesses said, while others fired into the air in a country overrun with weapons after years of conflict and unrest. Supporters of rival groups also threw rocks at each other.

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The flare-up followed a months-long political deadlock that blocked the formation of a new cabinet. The army quickly ordered a curfew.

In addition to the ten dead, dozens were injured, police and medical personnel said.

“I hereby announce my definitive withdrawal,” Sadr had previously announced on Twitter, criticizing fellow Shia political leaders for failing to heed his calls for reform.

Clashes erupted hours after that statement, prompting his supporters, who had already held a weeks-long sit-in in parliament in the Green Zone, to demonstrate and storm the cabinet headquarters. Some jumped into a pool near the palace, cheering and waving flags.

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

Amid the deadlock over the formation of a new government, Sadr has provoked his legions of supporters, disrupting Iraq’s efforts to recover from decades of conflict and sanctions and its attempt to tackle sectarian strife and rampant corruption.

Sadr, who has gained widespread support for opposing both US and Iranian influence on Iraqi politics, was the biggest winner of the October election but withdrew all of his lawmakers from parliament in June after he failed to do so. had succeeded in forming a government that excluded its rivals, mainly Tehran. supported Shia parties.

Sadr has called for early elections and the dissolution of parliament. He says no politician in power since the US invasion in 2003 can hold office.

IMPASSE

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

Sadr’s decision sparked dangerous tensions between heavily armed Shia groups. Many Iraqis worry that relocation of any Shia camp could lead to new civil conflicts.

“The (Iranian) loyalists came and burned sadrists’ tents and attacked protesters,” said Kadhim Haitham, a supporter of Sadr.

Pro-Iranian groups blamed the sadrists for the clashes and denied shooting anyone. “It’s not true – if our people had weapons, why should they throw stones?” said one militiaman, who refused to be named.

Sadr has historically withdrawn from politics and government and has also disbanded militias loyal to him. But he retains widespread influence over state institutions and controls a paramilitary group with thousands of members.

He has often returned to political activity after similar announcements, although the current stalemate in Iraq seems more difficult to resolve than previous periods of dysfunction.

The current standoff between Sadr and Shia rivals has seen Iraq’s longest period without a government.

Adherents of the mercurial cleric stormed the Green Zone for the first time in July. They have since occupied parliament and halted the process of electing a new president and prime minister.

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

Iraq has struggled to recover since the defeat of Islamic State in 2017, as political parties have bickered over the power and vast oil wealth of Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer.

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Reporting by John Davison in Baghdad and Amina Ismail in Erbil, Iraq; Additional reporting by Alaa Swilam; Written by Lina Najem; Editing by Edmund Blair and Rosalba O’Brien

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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