Shia cleric’s followers storm Iraq government palace amid growing crisis

Hundreds of followers of an influential Shia cleric have stormed Iraq’s government palace shortly after he announced he was withdrawing from politics, further deepening a political crisis.

Muqtada al-Sadr’s followers entered the Republican Palace in Baghdad, a meeting place for Iraqi heads of state and foreign dignitaries and the seat of the country’s caretaker government. In July they stormed the parliament building on two occasions to deter Sadr’s rivals from forming a government.

Iraq’s military announced a citywide curfew for civilians and vehicles on Monday to quell rising tensions and the possibility of clashes.

The protesters used ropes to pull down cement barriers leading to the palace gates, then filled lavish waiting rooms in the palace and chanted slogans in support of the cleric, who earlier announced his “final” retirement from politics.

In a tweet, Sadr said he was withdrawing from politics and ordered the closure of his party offices. It is not the first time he has announced his retirement, but many fear it could spur further unrest.

The cleric’s supporters gather in a large room in the palace
The cleric’s supporters filled lavish waiting rooms in the palace and chanted slogans. Photograph: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

Sadr’s statement on Monday was a reaction to the retirement of the Shia spiritual leader Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri, who counts many of Sadr’s supporters as followers. The previous day, Haeri announced he would be stepping down as a religious authority and called on his followers to support Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not the the Shia spiritual centre in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf.

The move was a blow to Sadr. In his statement he said Haeri’s stepping down “was not out of his own volition”.

Followers of influential Shia cleric storm Iraq’s government palace – video

Sadr won the largest share of seats in the October 2021 elections but failed to form a majority government, leading to what has become one of the worst political crises in Iraq in recent years.

His bloc later resigned from parliament and his supporters last month stormed the parliament building in Baghdad. Sadr has demanded parliament be dissolved and early elections held.

Iraq’s military called on the protesters to withdraw immediately from the Green Zone in Baghdad and to practise self-restraint “to prevent clashes or the spilling of Iraqi blood”, according to a statement. “The security forces affirm their responsibility to protect government institutions, international missions, public and private properties.”

The Guardian