- Witnesses said earlier that Sadr loyalists and supporters of a rival Shiite bloc, the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, had exchanged fire
- The US urged calm amid the “disturbing” reports of unrest in Baghdad
Iraq was on the edge of civil war on Monday after influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr announced his resignation from politics, his supporters seized the government building in Baghdad, and at least 15 of them died in confrontations with forces supported by Iran.
The UN mission in Iraq cautioned that “the very survival of the state is at stake” and pleaded with all parties to “refrain from acts that could lead to an unstoppable chain of events.” The US likewise urged restraint.
The most recent escalation of violence started when Al-Sadr, who commands a paramilitary organization with hundreds of members and enjoys considerable sway over state institutions, announced he would close his political offices. “I’ve made the decision not to get involved in politics. Consequently, I am now officially retiring,” he said.
In response, his supporters stormed the government building in Baghdad, a former palace of Saddam Hussein, disobeying an army curfew. While others cooled off in the garden’s swimming pool, others protesters lounged in chairs in a meeting room while waving Iraqi flags and taking selfies.
The pro-Iran Coordination Framework, a competing Shiite faction, opened fire on the Sadrists, and the two groups also engaged in street fighting.
Later, protests extended to other regions of the nation. Sadrists seized government offices in Nasiriyah and Hillah, two southern cities, and blocked entry to Umm Saqr Port.
Later, Sadr declared that he would go on a hunger strike to denounce the use of violence by all parties.
Since the country’s legislative elections in October of last year, Iraq has been embroiled in political impasse due to disagreements among Shiite groupings on coalition formation. The main winner of the election was Al-group, Sadr’s but the defeated Iran-backed forces have refused to acknowledge the outcome and have prevented the formation of a government.
In June, Al-Sadr resigned all of his lawmakers from the legislature after failing to form a cabinet.
He has pushed for early elections, the dissolution of parliament, and the idea that no person in office since the 2003 US invasion should do so.
What Al-strategy Sadr’s was, according to Hamzeh Hadadm of the European Council on Foreign Relations, was “not obvious.”
“Whatever it does mean, in typical Sadrist fashion, there is always backtracking expected,” he said.
“The second, and more terrifying, thought on this is that he is giving his followers the green light to do whatever they like.”
After storming the interior of the assembly on July 30, Sadr’s supporters have been holding a sit-in outside the building for many weeks to urge their demands.
They were incensed when the Coordination Framework recommended a candidate for prime minister that they believed was unfit.
Before new elections are held, the Framework wants a new head of state to be chosen.
This month’s crisis negotiations with party leaders were held by acting prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi, but the Sadrists chose to abstain.
RELATED: Iraq Is Nearing the Brink of a Shiite Civil War
Many Iraqis claim that their daily hardships have nothing to do with the political squabbling.
Iraq has been devastated by years of war and pervasive corruption.
Iraq is an oil-rich nation, but it is also plagued by a failing infrastructure, unemployment, power outages, and deteriorating public services. Now, as a result of the country’s widespread drought, it also has a water deficit.
YOUTUBE VIDEO: Why is Muqtada Al Sadr quitting Iraqi politics? | Inside Story
By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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