The situation in Iraq took a turn for the worse on Monday as at least 15 people were killed and hundreds were injured in clashes between the followers of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the military in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
The protestors were staging sit-ins at the parliament complex when the clashes broke out following al-Sadr’s announcement to retire from politics. The protestors breached the entrance of the Presidential palace and they were met with tear gas and stun grenades.
The authorities have declared a nationwide curfew and all official meetings were also suspended.
The conflict is a new chapter in the uncertainty surrounding Iraq’s political scene as the country has been without a stable government for more than 10 months – the longest since the United States attacked the country in 2003.
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The parties were unable to find a solution after Al-Sadr’s bloc became the biggest faction in parliament but fell short of securing a majority in last year’s elections.
It seemed like the stalemate was about to end as the pro-Iran Coordination Framework picked Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as the Prime Minister.
However, the protestors were not happy with the pick and they responded by storming government buildings and staging protests to make Al-Sadr the new premier of the country.
Who is Moqtada al-Sadr?
Al-Sadr, an Iraqi Shia scholar and founder of the most powerful political faction in the country, gained prominence after the fall of former dictator Saddam Hussein.
The cleric has exercised a lot of control over the political scenario of the country and in 2003, his followers and the affiliated militia (Mahdi army) resisted the US troops following the invasion.
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Both US and Iran have criticised Al-Sadr over the years for his strong views and his nationalist sentiments have made him a favourite with the poor Shia communities in the country.
Possible reason for resignation
While it seemed difficult for Al-Sadr to grab power at the moment, the decision to retire has left a lot of people confused. As per AP, it can be a response to the resignation of Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri – a prominent Shia leader in Iraq who also has a lot of control over a number of Al-Sadr followers.
Al-Haeri announced that he will be stepping down due to health reasons and asked his followers to show their support for Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It was a problem for Al-Sadr who gained power from Al-Haeri’s support and this announcement meant the momentary end of his clerical ambitions.
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