After supporters of Shiite Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr barged into the government building in Baghdad’s Green Zone, the Iraqi army imposed a nationwide curfew. The curfew went into effect at 7 p.m. local time on Monday, August 29 (1600 GMT). The protesters gathered on the same day that Sadr announced his political exit. Since al-Sadr’s party won the most seats in the October parliamentary elections but not enough to form a majority government, the Iraqi government has been paralyzed. His refusal to negotiate with Shiite rivals backed by Iran and subsequent withdrawal from the talks have plunged the nation into political uncertainty and instability amid intensifying intra-Shiite conflict. Since legislative elections in October of last year, Iraq has been in a political impasse. This has resulted in the absence of a government, president, or prime minister. Concerning the formation of a coalition, multiple factions are divided.
15 Dead on the Clash
An influential Shiite Cleric announced his resignation from Iraqi politics on Monday, prompting hundreds of his enraged followers to storm the government palace and sparking violent clashes with security forces. At least fifteen protesters were killed after violent clashes broke out in Baghdad. Using ropes, protesters devoted to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr tore down the cement barriers in front of the government palace and breached the palace gates. Numerous individuals rushed into the palace’s opulent salons and marbled halls, a key meeting place for Iraqi heads of state and foreign dignitaries.
The Iraqi military imposed a nationwide curfew in response to the violence, and the caretaker prime minister suspended Cabinet meetings. According to medical officials, dozens of protesters were injured by gunfire, tear gas, and scuffles with riot police. As night fell, Saraya Salam, an al-Sadr-aligned militia, and the Popular Mobilization Forces security group engaged in combat. As the clashes continued for hours in the Green Zone, the seat of the Iraqi government, a small force from the special forces division, and the 9th Division of the Iraqi Army joined in to contain the militants. At least one member of the special forces division responsible for Green Zone security has been killed. Several others, including a female civilian, were injured, according to two security officials. Multiple mortar rounds could be heard.
What Led to the Riots?
Almost a year ago, Sadr and his followers, the Sadrists, rebuffed a power-sharing agreement with other factions, precipitating the crisis. Al-Sadr’s bloc won the October elections, but Al-Sadr retreated all of his MPs in June, leaving Iraq in a state of political uncertainty. Sadr demands that no politician who has been in power since the invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2003 should remain in office. Nevertheless, a caretaker government was formed, and Mustafa Al-Kadhemi was appointed prime minister.
According to experts cited by the Wall Street Journal and Arab News, the clashes were precipitated by Al-Sadr’s resignation. Still, the cleric was aware that such a scenario would play out. They also stated that Sadr’s resignation and lack of strategy allowed his supporters to act however they wished. Arab News quoted Hamzeh Hadadm of the European Council on Foreign Relations as saying, “The most frightening aspect of this is that he is giving his followers carte blanche to do whatever they please.”
All flights to Baghdad have been canceled until further notice at Tehran International Airport due to the deteriorating security situation in the area. According to reports, Iranian authorities have also closed all checkpoints along the Iraqi land border. The U.S. and U.K. embassies in Baghdad express concern over the ongoing protests in the Iraqi capital and urge all parties to refrain from exacerbating the situation.
The PMF is an umbrella organization comprised of state-sanctioned paramilitary groups, the most powerful of which are aligned with al-Sadr’s political adversaries in the Iran-backed camp. Since al-Sadr’s party won the most seats in the October parliamentary elections but not enough to form a majority government, the Iraqi government has been paralyzed. His refusal to negotiate with Shiite rivals backed by Iran and subsequent withdrawal from the talks have plunged the nation into political uncertainty and instability amid intensifying intra-Shiite conflict.
The majority Muslim population of Iraq is divided into Shiites and Sunnis. The Shiites were oppressed by Saddam Hussein until the U.S.-led invasion flipped the political order. Now the Shiites are in conflict with one another, with the dispute revolving around power and state resources and influence over the Shiite Street. To advance his political interests, al-Sadr has wrapped his rhetoric in a nationalist and reform agenda that resonates strongly with his large grassroots base of supporters, who hail from Iraq’s poorest sectors of society and have been historically excluded from the political system.
Saraya Salam, a militia aligned with al-Sadr, gathered in the capital’s Tahrir Square on Monday to “protect” protesters, according to one of its commanders. A senior medical official confirmed that gunfire killed at least 15 protesters. The caretaker premier of Iraq stated that he would launch an investigation into the shootings and prohibit using live ammunition against protesters. According to an allied lawmaker, the influential Iraqi leader Muqtada al-Sadr will engage in a hunger strike until “violence and the use of weapons” cease. This decision was made after the outbreak of deadly violence in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, due to al-Sadr’s followers’ protests.