Influential Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, whose followers largely drove the past 48 hours of protests and violence that rocked the central Green Zone area of Baghdad – resulting in at least 30 deaths and injuries to hundreds more – has called for his supporters to disperse while further apologizing to the Iraqi people for the overnight deadly mayhem.
Al Jazeera correspondent observed Tuesday that “Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr have started to leave the Green Zone area after their leader told them to end the protests.” Further suggesting greatly calmed streets which were hours ago scenes of running armed street battles with security forces, the report notes that “The military also announced that a nationwide curfew, which went into effect on Monday at 7pm local time (20:00 GMT), has been lifted, further raising hopes that there might be an end to the street violence.”
Acting prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi welcomed Sadr’s speech. The Sadrist movement head issued the following warning to those still occupying government buildings: “The party is disciplined and obedient, and I wash my hands of those who do not withdraw from parliament building within an hour.” The ultimatum to his supporters appears to have worked for now.
A United Nations statement said the following: “UNAMI welcomes the most recent moderate declaration by Sayed Muqtada al-Sadr. As stated yesterday: restraint and calm are necessary for reason to prevail,” according to a UN Mission tweet.
Yet fears that the ongoing political gridlock in parliament – and inability to form a government going all the way back to a parliamentary election in October 2021 – could slide the country into civil war remain.
It remains to be seen whether significant unrest will spread to other provinces, but Iraq’s southern city of Basra – a hotbed of pro-Sadr support, whose withdrawal from politics sparked these latest clashes (or as his supporters say… being forced out) – has this week seen angry protests and confrontations with security forces.
Neighboring countries have been concerned enough over the potential that things could spiral further to take action regarding their citizens. First, Kuwait issued a public alert telling its nationals to depart the country, and on Tuesday Iran announced border closures with Iraq, citing fresh “unrests” and the curfew in Iraqi cities. This is significant given the huge numbers of Iranian religious pilgrims visiting Iraq on a regular basis.
Further, according to The Associated Press:
Dubai’s long-haul carrier Emirates stopped flights to Baghdad on Tuesday over the ongoing unrest in Iraq. The carrier said that it was “monitoring the situation closely.”
Iraq’s military has confirmed that at least four rockets had been fired into the Green Zone, which according to widely circulating videos triggered the US Embassy’s C-RAM anti-air defense system. There still appears to be the threat ongoing random armed attacks outside the Green Zone perimeter into Tuesday…
Baghdad Green Zone this morning.. pic.twitter.com/qoluYl5gh3
— Aldin 🇧🇦 (@tinso_ww) August 30, 2022
Unlike many prior instances of the outbreak of violence in Baghdad since the US ended its large-scale occupation of the country, this particular conflict has pitted rival Shia factions against each other:
Al-Sadr’s exit from politics prompted his supporters to storm the government palace in Baghdad’s Green Zone on Monday, where clashes with rival pro-Iran Shia groups killed at least 30 people.
“I thank the security forces that took a neutral stance with all parties,” he said, adding that the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Unit (PMF) that have integrated with the Iraqi security forces have nothing to do with what is happening.
Some reports suggested casualties among police and security ranks, however. Al Jazeera on Tuesday updated its figures to say that over 700 have been injured.
As we detailed earlier, Iraqi authorities are meanwhile seeking to reassure the world regarding unimpacted oil exports.
BAGHDAD IS IN SHAMBLES pic.twitter.com/6bTUnA2Vgw
— The_Real_Fly (@The_Real_Fly) August 30, 2022
The White House has been relatively quiet over these last 24 hours of violence rocking the high-secured Green Zone, only stating that the events “disturbing” while calling for “dialogue” in the wake of al-Sadr quitting politics.