Protests have turned deadly in Iraq after a prominent cleric quit politics

Protests have turned deadly in Iraq after a prominent cleric quit politics
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BAGHDAD – Followers of a prominent Shiite cleric stormed Iraq’s presidential palace on Monday, angered after the cleric vowed to leave politics. At least 12 people were killed in clashes with security forces, health officials said.

Gunshots and explosions rattled the capital’s windows in the evening as long-simmering political disputes gave way to the deployment of heavy weapons and mortars.

The violence was the most serious in some time summer of riots In Iraq, which has been without a government for more than a year and has been gripped by rising tensions between political groups, including clerics, followers of Muqtada al-Sadr and rival Shiite groups backed by Iran.

Sadr’s supporters stormed the palace on Monday after he announced his “final” retirement from politics – a threat he has been in the public eye for years but could have far more serious consequences in the country’s charged political environment and governance. by the provisional government.

In August, violent clashes took place in Baghdad. On the 29th, Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s announcement that he would leave politics led to violence by his followers. (Video: Reuters)

“You are free from me,” Sadr told his supporters in a resignation message sent Monday afternoon on Twitter.

The impact was immediate. In the images shared on social networks, Sadr’s supporters, who staged a sit-in in the Green Zone, where state offices and diplomatic missions are located, crossed the palace doors and passed through its decorated halls. Soon after, the sounds of live bullets were heard in the capital, and the security forces descended on the protesters.

Elsewhere in Iraq, Sadr’s supporters blocked roads and government buildings, including in Basra in the south. The UN mission in Iraq called the events an “extremely dangerous escalation” and called on protesters to withdraw from the Green Zone.

“Iraqis cannot be a prisoner of an unexpected and unstoppable situation. The survival of the state is at stake,” the mission statement said.

Iraq’s political dysfunction — a feature of civilian life since the U.S. invasion nearly two decades ago that has led to the entrenchment of a sectarian, kleptocratic order — entered its final phase in October, when Sadr won the most seats in parliament but failed to form a government. After months of political paralysis, the Speaker withdrew lawmakers from parliament in June and sent his supporters to occupy the parliament.

A rival political bloc of Iran-backed Shiite groups has also staged protests and sit-ins in the Green Zone, raising fears of a confrontation. In the background of the political strife are the Iraqis suffers greatlyGovernment institutions, from schools to hospitals, deteriorate without government support.

Chairman, A populist who opposes both US and Iranian influence in Iraqcalled for holding early elections, as well as banning political figures who served after the US occupation from working in the government.

The reasons for his latest political gambit were unclear, but the aging cleric, considered a supporter of the Chairman and his family, announced his retirement in a statement that included several digs at the Chairman.

Iran-based Grand Ayatollah Kazim Hosseini al-Haeri’s statement called on his followers to support Iran’s supreme leader, not Shia clerics living in Iraq, and also criticized Sadr without naming him, suggesting he lacked the “requisite conditions.” ” for leadership.

Ali Al-Mayali, an Iraqi political analyst, said the statement had a “great impact” on Sadr, who believed that Iranian-backed Shiite rivals were probably behind the cleric’s retirement. According to him, these rivals rejected Sadr’s attempts to form a government.

“From the beginning, the Sadrists hinted at civil disobedience as a last resort. “I believe that Sadr’s tweets… are a green light for civil disobedience as his latest move against his Shia rivals,” Mayali said.

In the evening, there were unconfirmed reports of armed attacks on facilities used by Iran-backed Shiite militias across the country, including in Basra.

Health officials on Monday did not identify the victims of the violence in Baghdad, but said some had been shot in the chest or stomach. Iraqi interim Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazimi said in a statement on Monday night that the use of live ammunition by security forces was “strictly prohibited” and he called on protesters to defend themselves.

Fahim reported from Istanbul.

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