The violence was most severe during a summer of unrest in Iraq, which has been without a government for most of a year and is caught up in escalating feuds between political factions, including supporters of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and rival Shia backed groups. by Iran.
Sadr’s followers stormed the palace on Monday after he announced his “final” retirement from politics – a threat he has expressed before, for years in the public eye, but one that could have more serious consequences in the charged political climate, and with the country ruled by an interim government.
“You are free from me,” Sadr told his supporters in a resignation notice posted Monday afternoon on Twitter.
The outage was immediate. Sadr’s supporters, who had held a sit-in in the Green Zone, home to government offices and diplomatic missions, climbed the palace gates and paraded through the ornate halls, in scenes shared on social media. Soon after, the sounds of live ammunition reverberated in the capital as security forces descended on the protesters.
Elsewhere in Iraq, Sadr’s supporters blocked roads and government buildings, including in Basra, to the south. The UN mission in Iraq called the developments an “extremely dangerous escalation” and pleaded with protesters to withdraw from the Green Zone.
“Iraqis cannot be held hostage in an unpredictable and untenable situation. The very survival of the state is at stake,” the mission said in a statement.
Iraq’s political dysfunction – a hallmark of civilian life since the US invasion entrenched a sectarian, kleptocratic order nearly two decades ago – entered its final phase in October, when Sadr won the largest number of seats in parliament but failed to form a government. After months of political paralysis, Sadr withdrew his lawmakers from the legislature in June and sent his followers to occupy parliament.
A rival political bloc, made up of Iran-backed Shia groups, has also held protests and sit-ins in the Green Zone, raising fears of a confrontation. Against the backdrop of political infighting, Iraqis have suffered immensely as state institutions, from schools to hospitals, deteriorate without government support.
Sadr, a populist who opposes both US and Iranian influence in Iraq, has called for snap elections, as well as barring political figures who served in government after the US invasion.
The reasons for his latest political move were unclear, but it came on the same day that an aging cleric believed to be a supporter of Sadr and his family announced his own retirement, in a statement that included several excavations at Sadr.
The statement by Grand Ayatollah Kadhim Husayni al-Haeri, who lives in Iran, called on his followers to support Iran’s supreme leader — rather than Iraq’s Shiite clerics — and also criticized Sadr, without naming him. and suggested that he failed to meet the “requirements” for leadership.
The statement had a “big impact” on Sadr, who likely thought his Iran-backed Shia rivals were behind the cleric’s retirement, said Ali Al-Mayali, an Iraqi political analyst. Those rivals, he said, had rejected Sadr’s attempts to form a government.
“Sadrists have suggested from the outset that civil disobedience is their last choice. I believe Sadr’s tweet…is the green light for civil disobedience as his “last step” against his Shia rivals, Mayali said.
By nightfall, there were unconfirmed reports of armed attacks on installations used by Iran-backed Shia militias across the country, including in Basra.
Health officials on Monday failed to identify the victims of the violence in Baghdad, but said some had been shot in the chest or abdomen. A statement Monday evening by Iraqi interim Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said the use of live ammunition by security forces was “strongly prohibited”, and called for the protection of protesters.
Fahim reported from Istanbul.