Tension in Iraq: the UN and the US urged calm amid the violent demonstrations in the Green Zone of Baghdad

Supporters of Iraqi populist leader Moqtada al-Sadr clash with supporters of the Coordination Framework, a group of Shiite parties, in Baghdad’s Green Zone (REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani) (THAIER AL-SUDANI/)

Eight Moqtada Sadr supporters were killed in Baghdad’s Green Zone on Friday, and 85 others were wounded, in full chaos since the Shiite leader announced his “definitive withdrawal” from Iraqi politics, according to a new balance provided by medical sources to the agency AFP.

The Iraqi military command decreed a national curfew and the UN mission called for cautionin a country mired in a political blockade since the legislative elections of October 2021. The US also urged calm amid ‘disturbing’ reports of unrest.

The United Nations mission in Iraq (UNAMI) has urged protesters to “immediately” leave the Green Zone and vacate the public buildings occupied in the last few hours so that the Government can continue to carry out its work.

“State institutions must be able to operate without hindrance in the service of the Iraqi population, under any circumstances and at all times,” the mission said, in a statement in which it called for “respect for the constitutional order.”

The situation deteriorated this Monday in the capital where, after Sadr’s announcement, one of the main actors in Iraqi politics, hundreds of sadrists invaded the Palace of the Republic where the council of ministers is located, in the so-called Green Zone of Baghdadjournalists from AFP.

An injured supporter of Iraqi populist leader Moqtada al-Sadr receives treatment at a hospital in Baghdad (REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani)
An injured supporter of Iraqi populist leader Moqtada al-Sadr receives treatment at a hospital in Baghdad (REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani) (THAIER AL-SUDANI/)

Protesters occupied offices, sitting on couches or taking selfies, and security forces intervened with tear gas to disperse them, a security source said.

Despite the curfew decreed by the army in Baghdad from 12:30 GMT and throughout Iraq until 16:00 GMT, chaos continued in the capital.

Shots in the Green Zone

at the entrances of the Green Zone, an area considered ultra-secure in Baghdad, Shots were heard which according to witnesses were between Sadrists and supporters of the Coordination Framework, a pro-Iranian political group opposed to Sadr’s supporters.

For almost a year, the main political leaders failed to agree on the appointment of a new prime minister in Iraq, one of the largest oil producers in the world, which remains without a government or president since the legislative elections.

To get out of the crisis, Moqtada Sadr and the Coordination Framework agree that hold early elections. But Sadr insists on dissolving parliament first while his rivals want to appoint a government first.

Supporters of Iraqi populist leader Moqtada al-Sadr protest in the Green Zone (REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani)
Supporters of Iraqi populist leader Moqtada al-Sadr protest in the Green Zone (REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani) (THAIER AL-SUDANI/)

After the protesters entered the Palace of the Republic, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazimi suspended the council of ministers “until further notice”and called an emergency security meeting at the military command headquarters.

Sadr, a highly influential and unpredictable leader, had been increasing pressure in recent weeks and for a month his supporters have camped in front of Parliament and even briefly blocked access to the country’s highest judicial body.

This Monday he announced his “definitive withdrawal” from politics and the closure of several institutions linked to his family.

The Shiite leader is one of the country’s heavyweights, whose great religious and political influence with the majority Shia community in Iraq, can aggravate the crisis or improve it.

In the legislative elections it came first with 73 seats (out of 329) but, unable to form a majority, he had his deputies resign in June, claiming to want to “reform” the system and put an end to “corruption”.

According to Hamzeh Hadad, guest researcher at the European Council on International Relations (ECFR), Sadr’s announcement “is not very clear.” “In the Sadrist tradition, we can expect him to back down,” he told the AFP.

Supporters of Iraqi populist leader Moqtada al-Sadr swim as they protest inside the Republican Palace in the Green Zone (REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani)
Supporters of Iraqi populist leader Moqtada al-Sadr swim while protesting inside the Republican Palace in the Green Zone (REUTERS / Alaa Al-Marjani) (ALAA AL-MARJANI /)

But, “and this is more frightening, it could be interpreted that he is giving his followers the green light to do what they want, saying that he is no longer responsible for their actions”, points out the expert.

Saturday, Sadr had given 72 hours to “all parties” present in the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 — including his own — to resign from government positions and leave “room for reforms.”

The dispute between the Sadrists and the Coordination Framework did not lead to armed clashes for the moment, but the Hashd al-Shaabi group, formed by former paramilitaries allied with Iran and integrated into the Iraqi forces, said they are ready to “defend the institutions of the Condition”.

Moqtada Sadr, born in 1974, never ruled. After the invasion of Iraq, led by the United States in March 2003, it had a meteoric political rise, thanks to the creation of the so-called al-Mahdi Army, a resistance militia against the occupier.

(With information from AFP and Europa Press)

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