Iraqi cleric Sadr calls off protests after worst Baghdad violence in years

BAGHDAD—Powerful cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered supporters to end protests in central Baghdad on Tuesday, easing a standoff that has led to the deadliest violence in years in the Iraqi capital did.

Sadr apologized to the Iraqis, condemned the fighting and supported his own after 22 people were killed in clashes between his loyal militants and a rival Shia Muslim faction backed by Iran. gave them one hour to disperse.

“This is not a revolution because it has lost its peaceful character,” Sadr, a former anti-American militant leader, said in a televised address. “It is forbidden to shed Iraqi blood.”

When the deadline passed around 2:00 pm (11:00 GMT), Sadr’s supporters moved to the fortified Green Zone area of ​​central Baghdad, which houses government offices and has occupied parliament for weeks. I could see it starting to leave.

Sadr’s Peace Brigades fighters gather during clashes with Iraqi security forces near the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, August 30, 2022. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters)
Sadr’s Peace Brigades fighters fire their weapons during clashes with Iraqi security forces near the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, August 30, 2022. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters)

Clashes between rival factions in Iraq’s Shia Muslim-majority on Monday followed a decade of political stalemate since Iraq’s October parliamentary elections, raising fears of escalating unrest.

Sadr emerged as a major winner in the election, but failed in his efforts to form a government with Sunni Muslim Arab and Kurdish parties, with the exception of the Iran-backed Shiite group.

This week’s riots erupted after Sadr said he would withdraw from all political activity. Sadr said the decision was due to the failure of other Shia leaders and political parties to reform the corrupt and declining system of governance.

President Barham Salih welcomed an initial cessation of violence after Sadr’s speech but warned the political crisis was not over and called for Sadr’s call for early elections as a potential way out of the impasse. .

Iraqi protest
People carry the coffin of one of the supporters of Iraqi populist leader Moqtada al-Sadr, who was killed during a protest in Baghdad, Iraq, on August 30, 2022. (Wissam Al-Okaili/Reuters)

Rocket landing in the green zone

Militants fired rockets in the Green Zone early Tuesday, gunmen cruised in pickup trucks loaded with machine guns and brandished grenade launchers, but most residents were disarmed after Sadr’s statement. I observed a curfew.

The US described the unrest as alarming and called for dialogue to ease Iraq’s political problems.

Neighboring Iran has temporarily closed its borders and temporarily suspended flights to Iraq. This was his three weeks ahead of Albain’s Shiite ceremony that draws millions of Iranians to the Iraqi city of Kerbala. The border has since reopened.

Emirates and flydubai have canceled flights to and from Baghdad on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sadr has established himself as a nationalist who opposes any foreign interference from the United States, Western countries and Iran.

He commands thousands of mighty militias and has millions of loyal followers across the country. His opponent, a longtime ally of Tehran, controls dozens of paramilitary forces heavily armed and trained by the Iranian military.

“Uncontrolled militias do exist, but that doesn’t mean the Sadrist movement shouldn’t be controlled either,” Sadr said in a speech calling off the protest.