Fighting between rival Iraqi forces is raging for a second day, with rocket fire echoing from Baghdad’s Green Zone – where 30 people have been killed, according to medical sources.
The violence began after powerful Shia religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr announced on Monday that he would resign from Iraqi politics, prompting hundreds of his angry followers to storm the government palace, sparking clashes with security forces.
Protesters loyal to al-Sadr pulled down the cement barriers outside the government palace with ropes and breached the gates, rushing into the lavish salons and marbled halls of the palace, a key meeting place for Iraqi heads of state and foreign dignitaries.
Iraq’s military announced a nationwide curfew, and the caretaker premier suspended cabinet sessions in response to the violence. Medical officials said dozens of protesters were wounded by gunfire and tear gas and physical altercations with riot police.
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.
During Monday’s clashes, a militia aligned with al-Sadr gathered in the capital’s Tahrir Square to protect protesters, according to one of its commanders.
Protests also broke out in the Shia-majority southern provinces, with al-Sadr’s supporters burning tires and blocking roads in the oil-rich province of Basra and hundreds demonstrating outside the governorate building in Missan.
This is not the first time al-Sadr, who has called for early elections and the dissolution of parliament, has announced his retirement from politics, and many dismissed Monday’s move as another bluff to gain greater leverage against his rivals amid a worsening deadlock.