January 28 2023 5:17 PM E-paper Newsletter Subscribe Sign in My Account Sign out
 
 

Iraq protesters disperse after Sadr demands end to violence

1. Iraq Sadr Quits
Iraqi army forces deploy to guard the entrance of the high-security Green Zone in Baghdad on August 30, 2022 after the withdrawal of supporters of Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr from the area. (Photo: AFP)

BAGHDAD — Iraqi supporters of powerful cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr withdrew Tuesday from Baghdad’s Green Zone after he demanded an end to fighting between rival Shiite forces and the army that left 30 dead and hundreds wounded.اضافة اعلان

The violence that erupted on Monday pitted Sadr loyalists against Shiite factions backed by neighboring Iran, with the sides exchanging gunfire across barricades — violence the UN warned risked tipping the war-ravaged country deeper into chaos.

After Sadr’s speech was broadcast live on television, his supporters started dismantling encampments and clearing the Green Zone, where municipal workers began cleaning up shells and bullet casings left in the wake of the unrest.

The army lifted a nationwide curfew, with concrete barriers removed from main thoroughfares and traffic slowly starting to trickle back to its normal flow. 

Sadr, a grey-bearded preacher with millions of devoted followers who once led a militia against American and Iraqi government forces, gave followers “60 minutes” to withdraw after which he would threaten to “disavow” those who remained.

“I apologize to the Iraqi people, the only ones affected by the events,” Sadr said in a speech from his base in the central city of Najaf.

“Shame on this revolution. ... Regardless of who was the initiator, this revolution, as long as it is marred by violence, is not a revolution,” he said.

“I thank the security forces and members of Hashed Al-Shaabi,” he added.

Tensions have soared in Iraq amid a political crisis that has left the country without a new government, prime minister, or president for months.

They escalated sharply after Sadr’s supporters on Monday afternoon stormed the government palace inside the high-security Green Zone following their leader’s announcement that he was quitting politics.

‘Bargaining tactics’

By sending supporters in and then asking them to withdraw, Moqtada “is showing the social power he has and the base that he has, particularly to his opponents”, said Renad Mansour of British think tank Chatham House.

Overnight, shelling targeted the Green Zone that houses government buildings and diplomatic missions, amid angry protests after Sadr surprised many by announcing his “definitive retirement”.

Violence continued Tuesday morning — with the rattle of automatic gunfire and heavier explosions of rocket-propelled grenades — as Sadr’s supporters clashed with the army and men of the Hashed Al-Shaabi, former Tehran-backed paramilitaries integrated into the Iraqi security forces.

“I think this strategy of violence and destabilization is part of Sadr’s negotiation and bargaining tactics,” Mansour told AFP.

The UN mission in Iraq warned of “an extremely dangerous escalation” and called on all sides to “refrain from acts that could lead to an unstoppable chain of events”.

“The very survival of the state is at stake,” it warned.

Medics said 30 Sadr supporters had been killed since Monday and some 570 others wounded — some with bullet wounds and others suffering tear gas inhalation.

A mass funeral was held Tuesday in the Shiite holy city of Najaf for some of the protesters killed in Baghdad.

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

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

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

‘Disturbing’

The US also urged calm amid the “disturbing” reports, while France called on “the parties to exercise the utmost restraint”.

Sadr — a longtime player in the war-torn country’s political scene, though he himself has never directly been in government — announced he was quitting politics two days after he said “all parties” including his own should give up government positions in order to help resolve the political crisis.

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

Since then, the country has been mired in political deadlock due to disagreement between Shiite factions over forming a coalition.

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

Sadr’s supporters had for weeks been staging a sit-in outside Iraq’s parliament, after storming the legislature’s interior on July 30, demanding fresh elections be held.

The Coordination Framework wants a new head of government to be appointed before any new polls are held.


Read more Region and World
Jordan News