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HomeMiddle East NewsTURKEYShelling hits Baghdad Green Zone as Sadr resignation stirs deadly clashes

Shelling hits Baghdad Green Zone as Sadr resignation stirs deadly clashes

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Shelling hits Baghdad Green Zone as Sadr resignation stirs deadly clashes

Iraq’s popular Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr is said to have announced a hunger strike after resigning from politics amid a months-long political logjam.

Supporters of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al Sadr breach the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq on August 29, 2022.
Supporters of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al Sadr breach the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq on August 29, 2022.
(Thaier Al-Sudani / Reuters)

Shelling has targeted Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone after Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr said he was quitting politics, sparking chaos in which at least 15 of his supporters were killed.

Tensions have soared in Iraq amid a political crisis that has left the country without a new government, prime minister or president for months, and escalated sharply after Sadr’s supporters stormed the government palace following their leader’s announcement on Monday.

At least seven shells fell in the high-security Green Zone, which houses government buildings and diplomatic missions, the security source said late Monday on condition of anonymity.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the shelling, which was followed by the sound of automatic weapons being fired in the Green Zone.

The security source said Sadr’s supporters opened fire at the Green Zone from the outside, adding that security forces inside “were not responding”.

Sadr is said to have announced a hunger strike until the violence and use of weapons stops, Iraq’s state news agency INA and state TV reported late on Monday.

There was no immediate confirmation from Sadr’s office.

READ MORE: Iraq’s top judicial body suspends activities as Sadr supporters protest

Green Zone under siege

Shots were fired earlier in the fortified area, an AFP correspondent said, and medics said 15 Sadr supporters had been shot dead and 350 other protesters injured – some with bullet wounds and others suffering tear gas inhalation.

Witnesses said earlier that Sadr loyalists and supporters of a rival Shia bloc, the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, had exchanged fire.

The Framework condemned an “attack on state institutions”, urging the Sadrists to engage in “dialogue”.

The army had announced a nationwide curfew from 1600 GMT.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhemi said “security or military forces, or armed men” were prohibited from opening fire on protesters.

Calling the earlier developments “an extremely dangerous escalation”, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) urged “all” sides to “refrain from acts that could lead to an unstoppable chain of events”.

The United States also urged calm amid the “disturbing” reports of unrest in Baghdad.

Protests spread to other parts of the country, with Sadr followers storming government buildings in the cities of Nasiriyah and Hillah south of Baghdad, an AFP correspondent and witnesses said.

Supporters of Iraqi populist leader Muqtada al Sadr swim after they breach the Republican Palace in protest in Baghdad's Green Zone in Iraq on August 29, 2022.
Supporters of Iraqi populist leader Muqtada al Sadr swim after they breach the Republican Palace in protest in Baghdad’s Green Zone in Iraq on August 29, 2022.
(Alaa Al-Marjani / Reuters)

Shortly after he made his surprise declaration, Sadr’s followers burst into the Republican Palace in Baghdad, where cabinet meetings are usually held.

Inside the palace, protesters lounged in armchairs in a meeting room, some waved Iraqi flags and took photographs of themselves, and others cooled off in a swimming pool in the garden.

Sadr – a grey-bearded preacher with millions of devoted followers, who once led a militia against American and Iraqi government forces – announced earlier on Twitter he was stepping back from politics.

“I’ve decided not to meddle in political affairs. I therefore announce now my definitive retirement,” said Sadr, a longtime player in the war-torn country’s political scene, though he himself has never directly been in government.

He added “all the institutions” linked to his Sadrist movement will be closed, except the mausoleum of his father who was assassinated in 1999, and other heritage facilities.

His latest statement came two days after he said: “all parties” including his own should give up government positions to help resolve the political crisis.

His bloc emerged from last year’s election as the biggest, with 73 seats, but short of a majority.

In June, his lawmakers quit in a bid to break the logjam, which led to the Coordination Framework becoming the largest bloc in the legislature.

For earlier updates on Sadr’s resignation and protests, read
here 
Source: TRTWorld and agencies


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