Sadr calls on supporters to end Baghdad protests after violent clashes
Iraq's powerful cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his followers to end their protests in central Baghdad on Tuesday and apologized to Iraqis after at least 22 people were killed in clashes between rival Shiite Muslim groups, Reuters reported.
"This is not a revolution because it has lost its peaceful character," Sadr said. "The spilling of Iraqi blood is forbidden."
In a televised address delivered at 1 p.m. (1000 GMT), Sadr set a one-hour deadline for his supporters to leave the fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad, where they have occupied parliament for weeks.
The unrest broke out Monday, when al-Sadr announced he would resign from politics and his supporters stormed the Green Zone, once the stronghold of the U.S. military that’s now home to Iraqi government offices and foreign embassies. At least 30 people have been killed, officials said.
Iraq’s government has been deadlocked since al-Sadr’s party won the largest share of seats in October parliamentary elections but not enough to secure a majority government — unleashing months of infighting between different Shiite factions. Al-Sadr refused to negotiate with his Iran-backed Shiite rivals, and his withdrawal Monday catapulted Iraq into political uncertainty and volatility with no clear path out.
Iran closed its borders to Iraq on Tuesday — a sign of Tehran’s concern that the chaos could spread, though streets beyond the capital’s government quarter largely remained calm.
A day after they stormed the Green Zone, supporters of al-Sadr could be seen on live television firing both machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades into the heavily-fortified area through a section of pulled-down concrete walls.
Security forces armed with machine guns inside the zone sporadically returned fire. Some bystanders filmed the gunfight with their mobile phones, though most hid behind still-standing segments of wall, wincing when rounds cracked nearby.
The country’s vital oil continued to flow, with global benchmark Brent crude trading slightly down.