After Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada-al Sadr announced that he was ending his political life, chaos sparked in Iraq in which at least 20 people died and hundreds more were injured.
This Monday, Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr issued a statement on Twitter and surprised his supporters by announcing his resignation from politics. The move came following months of protests by supporters backing his call for new elections and for the dissolution of the Iraqi parliament, which has seen 10 months of deadlock. This was in fact the longest time period in which Iraq has gone without having a government.
“I hereby announce my final withdrawal,” al-Sadr said in his statement Monday, adding also that “all the institutions” linked to his Sadrist Movement will be closed, except the mausoleum of his father, assassinated in 1999, and other heritage facilities.
The unexpected news was enough to fuel the flames of riot and protest the supporters of Moqtada Sadr in Bagdad. After their attack in their thousands to the to the Government Palace in the Green Zone of Baghdad, the Iraqi security forces intervened to evacuate the Zone, a move that led to violent clash between the two sides, leaving dozens killed and hundreds wounded.
There have also been reports of explosions in the Green Zone and rockets falling near the Government Palace. An Iraqi security official announced on Monday that Iraqi forces have declared a state of emergency in Baghdad.
Some news channels also reported that two Iraqi soldiers were killed during the clashes. Following the unrest, the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi suspended the cabinet until further notice. He also asked Sadr, the leader of the Sadr movement, to call his supporters to end the riot and leave the governmental buildings immediately. Al-Kazemi’s office also issued a statement on this Tuesday morning, announcing the closure of all Iraqi provinces until further notice.
So far reactions to the political chaos in Iraq
In reaction to the Sadrist occupying the Green Zone, the United Nations (U.N.) Assistance Mission in Iraq urged protesters to leave the Green Zone and vacate government buildings. “Today’s developments are an extremely dangerous escalation,” the U.N. mission tweeted, further noting that Iraq’s “state institutions must operate unimpeded in service of the Iraqi people, under all circumstances and at all times. Respect for constitutional order will now prove vital.”
US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski also reacted to the violence in Iraq and said the unrest is disturbing and urged all parties to “remain peaceful and refrain from acts that could lead to a cycle of violence,” she said in a statement.
Romanowski also called on demonstrators to “respect the institutions and property of the Iraqi government, which belong to and serve the Iraqi people and should be allowed to function.”
What is Sadr looking for?
For weeks, Sadr’s supporters have been calling for parliament to be dissolved and for a new election to be held. But on this Saturday, the cleric said it was “more important” that “all parties and figures who have been part of the political process since the 2003 US-led invasion no longer participate and all withdraw from the government.”
In the eyes of political experts, however, Sadr’s intentions seem to be contrary to his latest remarks that he wants to end his political activities.
Albert Wolf, for example, who is a research associate at Johns Hopkins University, says al-Sadr’s claim of quitting politics is a bid by the Shia politician to gain even more political leverage. “This is Sadr being Sadr. I believe he is jockeying for leverage in this current political crisis,” Wolf contends.