Muqtada al-Sadr Orders Supporters Home After Iraq Clashes Kill 30
The dramatic increase in violence following Sadr’s withdrawal from politics prompted him to announce that he would go on a hunger strike until “the violence and use of weapons stops."
Iraq erupted in violence on Monday after prominent Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr announced that he would permanently retire from politics—prompting thousands of his supporters to march on Iraq's government.
Following Sadr’s announcement on Twitter, protesters tore down concrete barriers around the Green Zone, a heavily fortified neighborhood where most Iraqi government institutions and foreign missions are headquartered. The demonstrators breached the Republican Palace, the former residence of longtime Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, although they were later forced out. Clashes between Sadr’s adherents and Iraqi security forces resulted in at least thirty deaths and seven hundred injuries by Tuesday morning, including more than one hundred among security forces, according to Al Jazeera.
It is still difficult to determine which parties are responsible for which incidents of violence. Despite an official prohibition, security forces are thought to have fired on demonstrators, but local sources reported that Sadr’s armed supporters had also fired their weapons inside the Green Zone. The situation has been further complicated by the presence of armed anti-Sadr factions, including the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, which controls the largest bloc within the country’s effectively defunct parliament. At the same time as groups of protesters and security forces clashed, an unknown party launched at least seven artillery shells into the Green Zone, causing further damage.
The dramatic increase in violence following Sadr’s withdrawal from politics prompted him to announce that he would go on a hunger strike until “the violence and use of weapons stops,” according to Iraqi state television. Sadr called on his supporters to withdraw from the Green Zone on Tuesday, but it is unclear how effective his effort to defuse the crisis has been.
Iraqi politics have been virtually paralyzed since October 2021, when the Sadrist Movement decisively defeated the Coordination Framework in the country’s parliamentary election. However, although Sadr’s adherents attempted to form a government in the country’s parliament, they were not able to form a governing majority under the parliament’s sharply divided sectarian system. In the interim, Iraq has not been able to pass an annual budget or effectively dedicate resources toward its crumbling infrastructure and social services.
After nearly a year of deadlock, all of Sadr’s lawmakers simultaneously resigned from parliament in June, in theory allowing the Coordination Framework to gain power but in practice maintaining their ability to prevent government actions through the use of street protests. In July, Sadrists stormed the parliament building and established a tent city outside, obstructing lawmakers’ ability to return and resume normal functions of state.
The international community swiftly condemned the violence in Baghdad. Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, claimed that his office had “appeal[ed] for calm and restraint” and urged “immediate steps to de-escalate the situation and avoid … violence.”
The Iraqi armed forces, which have largely remained apolitical during the country’s recent crises, have imposed a 7pm curfew and reportedly blocked off the main roads from Baghdad to the country’s southern provinces, preventing thousands of Sadrists from traveling to the capital city for further protests. The government of Iran also announced that it would close all border crossings with Iraq until further notice.
Trevor FIlseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.