Twelve people were killed and dozens more were injured on Monday in the Green Zone in central Baghdad, where a state of chaos prevailed after Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr announced his retirement from political work, sparking anger among his followers who broke into the government palace. , while the army imposed a general curfew.
AFP correspondents reported live gunfire at the entrances to the heavily guarded Green Zone, which houses government offices and embassies.
On Monday night, at least seven mortar shells landed in the same area, according to a security source, who asked not to be identified, and could not provide the result of this shelling, which was not immediately clear who was behind it.
Medical sources told AFP that 12 supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr were killed and 270 other protesters were injured, some by gunfire and others by inhaling tear gas.
Eyewitnesses told AFP about an exchange of fire between supporters of the Sadrist movement and their opponents in the “coordination framework”, which is considered pro-Iran.
The army announced the imposition of a curfew in Baghdad from 3:30 p.m., and then throughout Iraq at 7:00 p.m., and police patrols were carried out in the capital, after the deepening of the crisis in Iraq, which has been in a political impasse since the legislative elections in October 2021.
The situation deteriorated in the center of the Iraqi capital, and hundreds of Sadrista supporters stormed the prime minister’s headquarters in the afternoon, according to AFP correspondents, after Muqtada al-Sadr, one of the most important actors in the Iraqi politician, suddenly announced his permanent “retirement” from political work.
A security source told AFP that security forces intervened and fired tear gas canisters to disperse protesters at the entrances to the fortified Green Zone, while al-Sadr supporters stormed offices and sat on sofas. They jumped into the pool or took selfies.
The United Nations mission in Iraq, based inside the Green Zone, called on protesters to leave the area and urged all parties to exercise “utmost restraint.”
The mission described the situation as a “very dangerous escalation” and warned that “the survival of the state itself is at stake.”
The White House described the situation as “alarming” and called for calm and dialogue.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, quoted by presidential spokesman Bassam Radi, said: “I am following the current situation in Iraq with interest and am saddened by the outcome of current events in this brotherly country.”
Al-Sisi affirmed “Egypt’s full support for the security and stability of Iraq and the security of its brother people,” and called on “all Iraqi parties to give priority to the supreme interest of their country in overcoming the political crisis through of dialogue and in a way that achieves stability, security and prosperity for Iraqis.”
It appeared that a curfew was in effect in central Baghdad at night, as the streets were empty of pedestrians and vehicles.
But the unrest spread to other areas: In the southern Iraqi province of Dhi Qar, supporters of al-Sadr seized control of the entire provincial office building located in the city of Nasiriyah.
An AFP correspondent and witnesses said Sadr’s supporters had erected a large banner on the front door of the building reading “Closed by Ashura revolutionaries”. Others also broke into government offices.
Thaer al-Ismaili, a member of the board of directors of the Dhi Qar Oil Company, told AFP that the Sadrist protesters “closed the oil installations in the province and put banners on the doors saying: It is closed by order of the revolutionaries of Ashura”.
In Babil province, south of Baghdad, witnesses confirmed to AFP that protesters from the Sadrist movement had taken control of the government building in the city of Hilla. Others cut the main highways linking the city of Hilla, the provincial center, with the capital Baghdad and the rest of the southern provinces.
For almost a year, the Iraqi political poles could not agree on the name of the new prime minister, and therefore Iraq, one of the world’s largest oil producers, remains without a new government or a new president since the legislative approval. elections.
To get out of the crisis, Muqtada al-Sadr and the coordination framework agree on one point, which is the need for new early elections. But while Muqtada al-Sadr insists on dissolving parliament first, his opponents want to form a government first.
On Monday night, the coordination framework condemned the “attack on state institutions” and called on Sadr’s supporters to “dialogue”.
After the invasion of the government palace, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi suspended cabinet meetings “until further notice” and called an emergency security meeting at the military headquarters, after Muqtada al-Sadr called for “intervention by ordering the demonstrators to withdraw”. government institutions.”
Al-Sadr, who enjoys great influence and at the same time it is difficult to predict what he may do, has not stopped climbing in recent weeks; For a month, his supporters camped outside Parliament, and were even briefly denied entry to the Supreme Judicial Council.
Surprisingly, al-Sadr said in a brief statement on Monday: “I now announce my final retirement.” He also announced the closure of all institutions linked to the Sadrist movement, “except for the Holy Shrine (of his father, Muhammad al-Sadr, who died in 1999), the Sharif Museum and the Al-Sadr Heritage Authority.”
The Shiite leader is known for his black turban and bears the title of “Sayyid”, which is given to those belonging to the dynasty of the Prophet Muhammad, and is one of the most prominent and influential clerics with political weight and great influence. He is also among the most prominent political leaders who can aggravate the crisis or resolve it thanks to his ability to mobilize a large part of the Shiite community, which constitutes the largest components of the Iraqi people.
The Sadrist movement led the results of the recent elections by occupying 73 seats (of the 329 total seats in parliament), but when al-Sadr was unable to achieve a majority that would allow him to form a government, he announced in June the resignation of his deputies in the Parliament.
Under al-Sadr’s leadership, his supporters protested outside parliament about a month ago demanding the dissolution of the House of Representatives and the holding of early legislative elections to put the country on the path of reforms.
Al-Sadr calls for the “reform” of the situation in Iraq from the top of the pyramid of power to the bottom, and an end to the “corruption” suffered by the country’s institutions.
Hamza Haddad, visiting fellow at the European Council on International Relations (ECFR), said Sadr’s announcement was “not entirely clear”. “Based on his previous positions, we can expect him to back down (but) and this is the most frightening thing, this can lead to the belief that he is giving his followers a green light to do whatever they want, by saying that he is no longer responsible. of their actions,” he told AFP.
For his part, security and strategy expert Fadel Abu Ragheef told AFP, in response to a question about the goal of the Sadrist movement, that “the goal is to force political leaders who hold the authority of parliament and government to dissolve parliament and hold elections.”
And he believed that “Iraq is going to more lockdown and congestion.” However, the expert ruled out the occurrence of an armed conflict, saying: “I don’t think things will reach the point of clashes and bloodshed” between the Shiite parties.
Al-Sadr had on Saturday called on all parties on the political scene since the fall of Saddam Hussein, including his “72 Hours” party, to resign from government positions they hold and make way for reforms.
Until now, the dispute between the Sadrist movement and the coordination framework has not turned into armed confrontations, but the popular mass represented in the coordination framework announced the readiness of its factions to “defend the institutions of the State.”
Al-Sadr, born in 1974, has never ruled. But his influence is strong after the US-led international coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003, particularly through the formation of the Mahdi Army to fight the occupiers.
In his Monday statement, al-Sadr did not mention the Mahdi Army or the Peace Brigades, another armed force that was formed in 2014 after the Islamic State group took control of the city of Mosul.