After increased national as well as global concerns over violence that broke out in Iraq on Monday, August 29, cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr gave an ultimatum to his supporters on Tuesday asking them to leave the the high security Green Zone in Baghdad within “60 minutes.” “We hoped that there would be peaceful protests, without using weapons, as the revolution marred by violence is not a revolution, and now I am criticizing the revolution of the Sadrist movement,” he said.
Large-scale violent protests broke out in Iraq on Monday following Sadr’s announcement of retirement from politics and shutting down of all his political offices. Sadr’s supporters stormed the Green Zone and reportedly attacked government buildings including the Republican Palace.
Violence continued even on Tuesday morning with reports of fighting inside the Green Zone. According to Iraqi News Agency, at least four missiles targeted the area on Tuesday, with reports of gun fights as well.
This is how quickly things get out of hand in a country where everyone is armed to the teeth. I drove through the Green Zone just hours ago, now it's a battle field #Baghdad #Iraq pic.twitter.com/FtHItQshXh
— Simona Foltyn (@SimonaFoltyn) August 29, 2022
So far, at least 30 people have died and over 700 others have been injured in the clashes between the security forces and Sadr supporters, Al-Jazeera reported. Similar clashes were reported from other parts of the country. According to Xinhua, apart from security forces and Sadrist supporters, some unknown fighters were also involved in the gunfight.
However, the reports of clashes between Sadr’s Saraya al-Salam brigade and the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) were denied by Al-Mayadeen’s correspondent in Baghdad.
On Tuesday, Hashd al-Shaabi, an armed militia affiliated to the Fatah Alliance in the parliament, criticized the role of al-Salam in the violence inside the Green Zone, but denied its own involvement in the clashes and violence.
All this fighting, while the Hashd is still watching from its lair, and the resistance’s lions are watching from the trenches. Their hearts are strong, and their arms are the symbols of patience. They haven’t fired not a single bullet yet. This is true patience and basira.
— أبو سجاد الكربلائي | HST 🇮🇶 (@Twelver313) August 30, 2022
Attempts to de-escalate
The government led by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi declared Tuesday off for all government employees and announced a general curfew throughout the country. Kadhimi criticized the use of bullets against protesters and announced an investigation into the matter. He also appreciated the appeals by Sadr and other leaders to the protesters to refrain from violence.
Following the violence in the Green Zone on Monday, Sadr had announced a hunger strike demanding that the security forces end the use of force against his followers.
Fearing that the violence may lead to a full fledged civil war in the country, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appealed for calm. His spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that he “strongly urges all parties and actors to rise above their differences and to engage, without further delay, in a peaceful and inclusive dialogue on a constructive way forward.”
Sadr’s supporters have been sitting inside the parliament building for almost a month now, demanding fresh elections and reforms to the country’s constitution. They stormed the parliament building following the announcement of Mohammed Shi’a al-Sudani as the prime ministerial candidate by Sadr’s rival, the Coordination Framework.
Iraq has been witnessing political turmoil for years now. In October 2019, the then government led by Adil Abdul al-Mahdi had to resign after popular protests that went on for almost a year, finally leading to fresh elections last year. However, even after 10 months since the elections, Iraqi political parties have failed to form a government. Sadrists and some other parties are now raising the demand for a complete political overhaul, as was raised during the popular protests.