Shiite leader al-Sadr on hunger strike to stop violence

Al-Sadr announced his retirement from politics for the second time since 2014. “I decided not to get involved in politics, but now I am announcing my final retirement and termination of all benefits,” he tweeted on Monday. The religious institutions directly related to him are left out. “If I die or be killed, I ask you for blessings.”

Less than two hours after the announcement, protesters entered the Green Zone. Some bore pictures of Al-Sadr. “This is a people’s revolution, not a Sadrist movement,” some shouted. Others called for the “overthrow of the regime”. Protesters remove barricades and climb over fences. Security forces tried to disperse the crowd with water cannons. The palace siege continued despite curfew from mid-afternoon.

Protests spread

Videos show a jubilant crowd in the grand rooms of the palace One protester said protesters would walk through the office, while others would swim in a swimming pool outside. However, there will be no damage to government property. Security forces tried to disperse the protesters from the palace by firing tear gas. Witnesses said shots were fired later.

In the evening, the protests spread to other parts of the country. In the southern cities of Dhi Qar, Nasiriyah and Hilla, al-Sadr supporters reportedly attacked government buildings and blocked roads in Hilla.

Prime Minister Al-Qasimi suspended all cabinet meetings until further notice. He spoke of “dangerous developments” and “serious consequences of ongoing political differences”. He asked al-Sadr to direct the protesters.

The United Nations Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) called for an “extremely dangerous escalation” and called on protesters to leave government districts immediately. “The survival of the state is at stake,” the UN mission said. The US government called the report “disturbing” from Baghdad and called on all parties to remain calm and engage in dialogue.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “restraint” and for “all relevant actors” to take “immediate action to de-escalate the situation”. The US government called the report “disturbing” from Baghdad and called on all parties to remain calm and engage in dialogue.

Al-Sadr wanted to break tradition

Iraq has been in a deep political crisis for months. It has become increasingly difficult since the parliamentary elections nearly ten months ago. Al-Sadr’s movement emerged as the clear winner at the time, but failed to secure the crucial two-thirds majority required for a presidential election. A new government can only be formed with the support of the head of state. This created a political stalemate.

Al-Sadr thus gave up trying to reform Iraq’s political system with the help of parliament for the time being. After the fall of the longtime dictator Saddam Hussein, it was customary for representatives of the most important political forces to be represented in the cabinet. Al-Sadr wanted to break with this tradition and form a majority government with MPs from his party, Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, and the Sunni bloc. One of his goals was to reduce the influence of Iran-backed Shia groups.


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