Two people were killed after the strong al-Sadr withdrew from politics and clashes erupted

  • Sadr’s supporters stormed the government headquarters
  • Clergy loyalists and Iran-backed rivals throw stones
  • Political deadlock leaves Iraq’s recovery in stalemate
  • A cleric wants to dissolve parliament and hold early elections

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Two people were killed in Baghdad on Monday after Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s decision to withdraw from politics due to a political crisis led to clashes between his supporters and backers of his Iran-backed opponents. .

Young men loyal to Sadr, who took to the streets to protest the cleric’s move, clashed with supporters of Tehran-backed groups. They threw stones at each other outside Baghdad’s Green Zone, which houses ministries and embassies.

Journalists said the shooting echoed across central Baghdad. At least some of the shots appeared to come from rifles fired into the air, although the source of all the shooting was not immediately clear in a country awash with guns.

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In addition to the two deaths, 19 people were injured, police and medical workers said.

The clashes took place hours after al-Sadr announced his withdrawal from politics, prompting his supporters, who had been camping for weeks in Parliament in the Green Zone, to demonstrate and storm the main headquarters of the Council of Ministers.

The Iraqi army declared a curfew from 3:30 pm (1230 GMT) and urged protesters to leave the Green Zone.

During the deadlock over forming a new government, Sadr rallied his legions of supporters, bringing chaos to Iraq’s efforts to recover from decades of conflict and sanctions and its attempt to tackle sectarian strife and endemic corruption.

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Sadr, who won broad support by opposing US and Iranian influence over Iraqi politics, was the big winner in the October elections, but withdrew all of his deputies from parliament in June after failing to form a government that excluded his rivals, mostly from Tehran-supporting Shiite parties.

Al-Sadr insisted on early elections and the dissolution of parliament. He says that no politician who has been in power since the US invasion in 2003 can hold office.

“I hereby announce my final withdrawal,” Sadr said in a statement posted on Twitter, criticizing fellow Shiite political leaders for failing to respond to his calls for reform.

He did not go into details of closing his offices, but said cultural and religious institutions would remain open.

IMPASSE

Al-Sadr has withdrawn from politics and government in the past and has also disbanded militias loyal to him. But it retains extensive influence over state institutions and controls a paramilitary group with thousands of members.

He returned to political activity more often after similar announcements, although the current impasse in Iraq appears to be more difficult to resolve than previous periods of dysfunction.

The current impasse between al-Sadr and the Shiites gave Iraq the longest running period without a government.

Then supporters of the mercurial cleric stormed the central government district in Baghdad. Since then, they have occupied Parliament, halting the process of selecting a new president and prime minister.

Mustafa al-Kadhimi, an ally of Sadr, who is still acting prime minister, suspended cabinet meetings until further notice after demonstrators from the Sadrist movement stormed the government headquarters on Monday.

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Iraq has been struggling to recover since the defeat of the Islamic State in 2017 due to a feud between political parties over power and the vast oil wealth of Iraq, the second-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

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Reporting by John Davison of Baghdad and Amina Ismail in Erbil, Iraq; Additional reporting by Alaa Swailem. Written by Lina Najm. Editing by John Stonestreet and Edmund Blair

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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