In Iraq, the smell of a new hot spot: dozens of dead

Bloody clashes in Baghdad were triggered by the departure of a popular cleric from politics

Iraq is on the verge of a new bloody confrontation. Clashes in Baghdad, triggered by the departure of an influential Shiite cleric from politics, have resulted in deaths and further plunged the country into crisis. Let's try to figure out what is happening in the long-suffering Arab country and whether violence can flare up here again.

Photo: AP

At least 10 people were killed and more than 200 injured in clashes that broke out in the Iraqi capital on Monday, medical sources told CNN. Meanwhile, according to Al Jazeera, up to 30 supporters of the Shia leader al-Sadr were killed, and about 380 more were injured – some received bullet wounds, while others suffered from tear gas poisoning. On Tuesday, a mass funeral was held in the Shiite holy city of Najaf for some of the protesters killed in Baghdad.

Violence continued into Tuesday morning as four rockets landed on the heavily fortified “Baghdad Green Zone” that was once a stronghold of the United States military and is now home to Iraqi government offices and foreign embassies. Video footage shows militants firing RPGs and machine guns at armored vehicles.

UN Chief António Guterres on Monday called for “restraint” in Iraq and asked all parties to “take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation.”

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The bloodshed came after Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced on Monday his “final retirement” from politics and said he was closing his political offices across the country. a gray-bearded preacher with millions of devoted followers who once led a militia against US and Iraqi government forces after the 2003 overthrow of President Saddam Hussein by the US occupiers announced his “final retirement” on Monday and said he “decided not to interfere into political affairs.”

This announcement prompted hundreds of Sadr's supporters to storm the Green Zone and seize the Republican Palace, where the Iraqi cabinet sits. Protesters were seen swimming in the palace pool and waving Iraqi flags while others clashed with government security forces.

Sporadic clashes have erupted in Baghdad between Iranian-backed militias and forces loyal to al-Sadr, who can count on the loyalty of up to 7 million Shiite Iraqis, The Guardian notes. For its part, Al Arabiya claims that clashes raged between Sadr's supporters and the army and fighters of Hashed al-Shaabi, former Tehran-backed paramilitaries integrated into Iraqi forces, Monday night and Tuesday morning.

But after a day of violence, al-Sadr on Tuesday ordered his supporters to leave the Green Zone and apologized to the Iraqi people.

“I walk with my head down and I apologize for the Iraqis, who are the only people who have suffered,” al-Sadr said at a press conference held on Tuesday in Najaf.

The video from Baghdad shows , as crowds of protesters leave the Green Zone after their leader's speech. Minutes later, the Iraqi military announced they would lift the nationwide curfew imposed on Monday.

Protests also erupted in Iraq's Shia-majority southern regions, with Sadr's supporters burning tires and blocking roads in the oil-rich Basra province, and hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the governorate building in Missan. Acting Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Qadhimi imposed a curfew on most Iraqi cities, except the Kurdish north, from 7:30 pm.

Since the outbreak of violence in Baghdad, neighboring Iran has closed its borders with Iraq and canceled some flights bound for the Iraqi capital, Iranian state news agency IRNA reported. The Iranian embassy in Baghdad also asked Iranians currently in Iraq to refrain from traveling to the capital, as well as to the cities of Kadhimiya and Samarra, IRNA added.

Muktada al-Sadr is extremely popular in Iraq and throughout For many years he has positioned himself as a figure opposing both the United States and Iran, which have significant influence in Iraq.

According to The Guardian, al-Sadr, after 2003, was the main beneficiary of the system cemented during the American occupation of Iraq, and used it to strengthen his power over his followers and influence political life.

Despite the nominally friendly Attitudes towards Iran In the two decades since the ouster of President Saddam Hussein by American intervention, al-Sadr has increasingly challenged Tehran's influence on his country's politics.

Al-Sadr's nationalist rhetoric and proposed reform agenda resonate strongly with his supporters, who mostly come from the poorest sections of Iraqi society and have historically been excluded from the political system.

In October, al-Sadr's Shiite bloc became the most a big winner in an election that threatened to sideline the Iran-linked rival Shia factions that had long dominated the politics of the oil-rich country.

But despite electoral success, al-Sadr's attempts to form a government failed due to opposition from rival blocs, leaving Iraq stuck in a political stalemate. In a show of apparent strength, al-Sadr decided in June to order his entire political bloc to withdraw from parliament.

In July, the Coordinating Structure, the largest Shiite alliance in the Iraqi parliament, nominated Mohammed Shia al-Sudani for the presidency, which caused a wave of protests from supporters of al-Sadr. The coordination structure consists of various Shia groups, some of which are supported by Iran.

In July, Sadr urged his supporters to occupy parliament while calling for massive changes to the political system.

On Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Qadimi welcomed al-Sadr's call for his supporters to resign, saying that each has a “moral and national responsibility to protect Iraq's capabilities, stop the political and security escalation, and initiate a quick and fruitful dialogue to resolve the crisis.”

Meanwhile, some observers fear that protracted clashes will be a test of loyalty Iraqi military, which has a large number of Sadr supporters in its ranks.

Government Palace stormed in Baghdad: footage of violent protests

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