Dhe political crisis in Iraq and the power struggle to form a government escalated dangerously on Monday. The influential Shiite preacher Muqtada al Sadr, whose alliance originally emerged as the strongest force in last October’s parliamentary elections, announced his withdrawal from Iraqi politics. His movement will close all of its political and social institutions. Sadr announced his “final retirement” on Twitter. He accused his opponents of ignoring his calls for reform.
Shortly thereafter, followers of the preacher stormed the government district in the capital Baghdad and penetrated into the government palace. According to the latest reports, eleven people died in clashes with security forces and 160 people are said to have been injured. Iraqi forces fired shots and tear gas to evict protesters from the government palace. The military imposed a curfew.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustapha al-Kadhimi, whose government is only an executive and has very limited ability to act, spoke in a statement of “dangerous developments” and called for restraint. The political “dispute” is damaging the country’s institutions, he said.
As Sadrists stormed the so-called Green Zone in Baghdad, the risk of violent clashes with the security forces increased, as well as violence between Sadrists and supporters of his domestic political rivals. The main reason for the months-long political blockade is the power struggle within Shiite political forces. On the one hand there is Sadr, a populist who presents himself as a nationalist people’s tribune, on the other hand the camp, which is considered the political henchman of the encroaching neighboring country Iran. Both sides have access to heavily armed militias. According to the first unconfirmed information from local television stations in the late afternoon, there were dozens injured and at least four dead in gunfire.
The UN representation in Iraq spoke of a “very dangerous escalation” and warned against actions that could result in an “unstoppable chain of events”. “The survival of the state is at stake,” the UN agency said. Iraqi political observers have expressed doubts about the finality of Sadr’s withdrawal from politics and spoke of a tactical maneuver. The Shiite preacher, who repeatedly operates in political disputes with his extraordinary power to mobilize, has increasingly shifted the current power struggle from the political institutions to the streets. His supporters have been blocking parliament for weeks, and Sadr is calling for it to be dissolved. In June, the Sadrist bloc withdrew from Parliament.