Tuesday’s fighting between rival Iraqi forces continued, with rocket fire resonating from Baghdad’s Green Zone, where 23 followers of influential leader Moqtada Sadr were reported shot dead, according to medics.
After Sadr’s supporters stormed the government palace on Monday afternoon in response to their leader’s announcement that he was quitting politics, tensions in Iraq, where the country has been without a new government, prime minister, or president for months, have risen sharply.
After Sadr’s unexpected announcement, there were irate protests overnight, and shelling was reported to have targeted the high-security Green Zone, which is home to government buildings and diplomatic missions.
On condition of anonymity, a security source said that at least seven shells had landed in the high-security Green Zone, but it was not immediately known who was to blame.
The security source claimed that from the outside, Sadr’s supporters started firing at the Green Zone, adding that the security personnel there “were not responding.”
After a lull in the violence, new clashes broke out on Tuesday morning between Sadr’s supporters and the army and members of the Hashed al-Shaabi, formerly backed by Tehran and now part of the Iraqi forces.
The Green Zone could be heard the rattle of automatic weapons and the louder explosions of rocket-propelled grenades, according to AFP correspondents.
A “very dangerous escalation” was foreseen, and the UN mission in Iraq urged all parties to “avoid actions that could trigger a cascade of uncontrollable events.”
It stated that “the very survival of the state is at stake.”
Baghdad was otherwise quiet Tuesday despite a nationwide curfew imposed by the army, with most stores closed and few vehicles leaving the parking lot.
On Tuesday morning, medical personnel updated the death toll for Sadr supporters to 23; there were also approximately 380 injuries, some from tear gas inhalation and some from gunshot wounds.
Witnesses earlier reported gunfire between Sadr allies and members of a rival coalition, the pro-Iran Coordination Framework.
The Framework urged the Sadrists to engage in “conversation” and denounced a “attack on governmental institutions.”
It was forbidden for “security or military forces, or armed men,” according to interim prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, to fire on protestors.
In light of the “disturbing” reports, the United States likewise encouraged moderation, while France urged “the parties to show the utmost prudence.”
The Republican Palace in Baghdad, where cabinet meetings are often conducted, was stormed by Sadr’s supporters shortly after he made his declaration. They originally celebrated by cooling off in the garden’s swimming pool.
Sadr, a grey-bearded cleric who formerly commanded a militia against American and Iraqi government forces and has millions of dedicated followers, said earlier this week that he was leaving politics.
“I’ve made the decision not to get involved in politics. I thus declare that I am officially retiring “declared Sadr, a veteran of the war-torn nation’s political arena despite never having held a direct position in government.
His most recent remarks came two days after he suggested that “all parties,” including his own, should renounce their posts in the government in order to assist in resolving the current situation.
With 73 members in the assembly, his coalition won the most seats in the election last year but fell short of a majority.
In an effort to break the impasse, his MPs resigned in June, and as a result, the Coordination Framework grew to become the largest group.
The European Council on Foreign Relations’ Hamzeh Hadad claimed that Sadr’s policy was “not apparent.”
Hadad stated, “Whatever it does signify, in classic Sadrist form, there is always expected backtracking.”
The second, and worse, interpretation of this is that he is enabling his supporters to act in whatever way they like.
Due to disagreements over the formation of a coalition between various factions, Iraq has been embroiled in political impasse since the country’s legislative elections in October of last year.
After storming the interior of the assembly on July 30 to pursue their demands, Sadr’s followers have been holding a sit-in outside the building for many weeks.
Before any fresh elections are held, the Coordination Framework wants a new head of state to be selected.