At least 30 people have died in violent clashes over the past two days with almost 800 wounded. To avoid further violence, Shia cleric al-Sadr tells his supports to stop and end the shedding of “Iraqi blood". Nevertheless, tensions are still running high while the political stalemate continues. Source tells AsiaNews that a “situation of confusion has persisted for some time”.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Iraq is an increasingly isolated and violent, following sudden clashes triggered by Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr‘s decision to retire from active politics.
Following the announcement, al-Sadr’s supporters took to the streets in the Iraqi capital, trying to storm government buildings in the Green Zone. Violent clashes broke out with the security forces amid scenes of urban warfare.
In an attempt to ease tensions, al-Sadr spoke in a televised address. In it he apologised to the Iraqi people for the violence caused by his loyalists and supporters, urging them to stop.
“This is not a revolution,” he said, “because it has lost its peaceful character”. To emphasise his point, he added that “the spilling of Iraqi blood is forbidden”.
Since yesterday, tensions have been easing, an official in Baghdad told AsiaNews; however, a “situation of confusion has persisted for some time. People have been told to be careful fearing an escalation” since none of the parties involved "want to take a step back.”
According to military sources cited by Middle East Eye, at least 30 people have died so far with over 750 wounded in Baghdad alone. Tensions and clashes have also been reported in the south of the country, where the Shia community is the majority.
In the capital, most residents remained shuttered in their homes after the authorities imposed a curfew while the sound of gunshots and rocket fire resonated as al-Sadr supporters clashed with security forces backed by pro-Iran militias.
Fighting was intense in the Green Zone, home to many government ministries and foreign embassies, with smoke billowing from the area. But in the early afternoon – following al-Sadr's appeal – protesters began to leave.
In light of the situation, some international airlines, including Emirates Airline, cancelled flights into Baghdad due to security concerns for staff and passengers.
"Customers are advised that due to reports of civil unrest and curfews in Iraq Emirates flights to/from Baghdad have been cancelled on 30 August," the airline said on its website.
For its part, Iran closed its borders with Iraq and urged its citizens to avoid travel to that country for the time being.
This comes ahead of Arbaeen, a Shia religious observance that marks the end of the 40-day mourning for the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
Every year, millions of Iranians go on pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala for the anniversary, which this year falls on 16 and 17 September.
Since parliamentary were held elections in October 2021, Iraq has been politically deadlocked. Al-Sadr’s political bloc emerged with most seats but not enough for a majority.
Despite various attempts, the various parties have failed to elect the country’s president or designate a prime minister to form a new government.
The Coordination Framework bloc, an alliance of Iran-backed parties, was unable to strike a deal with Sadrists to replace outgoing Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.