NewsWorldTwo killed as Iraq's powerful Sadr quits politics and clashes erupt

Two killed as Iraq’s powerful Sadr quits politics and clashes erupt

Two people were killed in Baghdad on Monday (August 29) after a decision by Iraq’s powerful Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to quit politics over a political deadlock prompted clashes between his supporters and backers of Iran-backed rivals.

Young men loyal to Sadr who took to the streets in protest at the cleric’s move skirmished with supporters of Tehran-backed groups. They hurled rocks at each other outside Baghdad’s Green Zone, which is home to ministries and embassies.

Gunfire echoed across central Baghdad, reporters said. At least some of the shots appeared to come from guns being fired into the air, although the source of all the gunfire was not immediately clear in a nation awash with arms.

In addition to two people killed, 19 people were injured, police and medical workers said.

The clashes took place hours after Sadr announced he was withdrawing from politics, which prompted his supporters, who had been staging a weeks-long sit-in at parliament in the Green Zone, to demonstrate and storm the main cabinet headquarters.

Iraq’s army declared a curfew from 3:30 p.m. (1230 GMT) and urged the protesters to leave the Green Zone.

During the stalemate over forming a new government, Sadr has galvanized his legions of backers, throwing into disarray Iraq’s effort to recover from decades of conflict and sanctions and its bid to tackle sectarian strife and rampant corruption.

Sadr, who has drawn broad support by opposing both U.S. and Iranian influence on Iraqi politics, was the biggest winner from an October election but withdrew all his lawmakers from parliament in June after he failed to form a government that excluded his rivals, mostly Tehran-backed Shi’ite parties.

Sadr has insisted on early elections and the dissolution of parliament. He says no politician who has been in power since the U.S. invasion in 2003 can hold office.

“I hereby announce my final withdrawal,” Sadr said in a statement posted on Twitter, criticizing fellow Shi’ite political leaders for failing to heed his calls for reform.

He did not elaborate on the closure of his offices, but said that cultural and religious institutions would remain open.

(Reuters)

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