BAGHDAD: Fighting between supporters of Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr and security forces resumed with renewed vigor on Tuesday in Baghdad’s Green Zone, an escalation that left at least 23 dead amid political stalemate in Iraq.
The violence that raises fears of an uncontrollable slippage is taking place in the Green Zone, an area where government institutions and Western embassies are located.
After a relatively calm end of the night, the violence resumed despite an indefinite curfew decreed throughout the country, where the various political forces were called upon by the international community to exercise restraint.
Since the morning, the firing of automatic weapons and RPG rockets has echoed throughout Baghdad from the Green Zone.
The fighting pits the Peace Brigades, an armed group under the orders of Moqtada Sadr, against the army and the men of Hachd al-Chaabi, former pro-Iran paramilitaries integrated into the regular forces. A very rare fact.
According to a latest report provided by a medical source, at least 23 supporters of Moqtada Sadr have been shot dead since Monday and 380 people injured in the Green Zone.
A funeral was held Tuesday in the Shia holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad.
The violence erupted after Moqtada Sadr’s surprise announcement on Monday of his “withdrawal” from political life, in which he is nevertheless a key player.
Thousands of his supporters immediately invaded the Palace of the Republic, where the Council of Ministers sits in the Green Zone, despite the intervention of the police who used tear gas.
Witnesses then reported exchanges of fire at the entrances to the Green Zone between Sadrists and supporters of the Coordination Framework, a rival alliance of Moqtada Sadr which brings together pro-Iran groups including that of Hachd al-Chaabi.
Elsewhere in Iraq, Sadrists invaded the governorate seat in Nasiriyah (south) and occupied the governorate seat of Babylon (center) in Hilla.
The Coordination Framework condemned the “attack on state institutions” while calling for “dialogue”.
The United States, an influential country in Iraq where they deploy soldiers, called for calm, the UN and France for restraint.
Iraq, a country rich in oil but overwhelmed by a serious economic and social crisis, has been plunged into political stalemate since the October 2021 legislative elections won by Moqtada Sadr.
The political barons are still unable to agree on the name of a new prime minister. And Iraq therefore has neither a new government nor a new president since the election.
To get out of the crisis, Moqtada Sadr and the Coordination Framework agree on one point: new elections are needed. But if Moqtada Sadr insists on dissolving parliament first, his rivals want the formation of a government first.
” What they want ”
Moqtada Sadr maintains rocky relations with Shiite Iran, which exercises a strong influence among its Iraqi neighbor. It is there that he lives most of the time, but often swings from a pro-Iranian line to the defense of a clearly nationalist position.
In recent weeks, the Iraqi Shiite leader has not stopped raising the stakes because he knows he can count on the support of a very large section of the Shiite community, the majority in Iraq.
For the past month, his supporters have camped near Parliament in the Green Zone and even briefly blocked access to the country’s highest judicial body in Baghdad.
On Monday, in a new twist, he announced his “final withdrawal” from politics and the closure of institutions linked to his family.
Arriving first in the legislative elections 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”.
“In the Sadrist tradition, we can expect him to back down,” said Hamzeh Hadad, guest researcher at the European Council for International Relations (ECFR).
But, “and this is more terrifying, one might think he is giving his followers the green light to do whatever they want, saying he is no longer answerable for their actions.”