Baghdad clashes leave 20 dead

Baghdad clashes

Baghdad: Following the announcement by influential Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that he would leave politics, fierce fighting broke out in Baghdad on Monday, leaving approximately 20 people dead. His supporters then stormed a government palace and engaged in combat with competing factions.

The heaviest combat the Iraqi capital has seen in years broke out as night fell, with machine-gun fire, explosions, and tracer fire billowing into the sky above the Green Zone, which houses government offices and international embassies.

It came after a day of unrest brought on by Sadr’s declaration that he would cease all political participation, a move he claimed was in response to other Shi’ite leaders and parties’ failure to change a corrupt and failing political system.

Later, Sadr said he was on a hunger strike to protest the use of force by all parties.

Iraq is currently struggling to recover from decades of war, sanctions, civil strife, and endemic corruption. A political impasse between Sadr and Shi’ite Muslim competitors who are largely supported by Iran has thrown Iraq into yet another wave of violence.

Since 2003, sectarian conflict and more recent intra-sectarian, intra-ethnic political rivalry have taken place in Iraq.

The security forces and Iran-aligned rival paramilitaries are at odds with Sadr’s supporters, who include a heavily armed militia, in the most recent round of bloodshed.

The build-up of tensions that finally resulted in new violence on Monday was primarily influenced by Sadr’s victory in an election in October last year, his attempts to form a government free of Iranian-backed groups, and his eventual withdrawal from parliament in favour of street protests and occupying government buildings to block political activity. — Agencies

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