Street fighting in Baghdad: 23 dead

At least 23 people have been killed in some of the worst fighting in years in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, sparked by a key leader’s decision to quit politics.

Gunfire and rockets rang out as supporters of Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr clashed with security forces and Iran-allied militias.

The violence erupted after Sadr, one of Iraq’s most influential figures, announced his retirement from political life.

Iraq has been in a state of paralysis since inconclusive elections in October.

Sadr’s bloc won the most seats, but could not agree on forming a new government with the second-largest bloc, made up mainly of Iran-backed parties.

The fighting took place between Sadr’s militias, known as the Iran-backed Peace Brigades, and members of the Iraqi security forces.

Much of the fighting has centered around the city’s Green Zone, a heavily fortified area that houses government buildings and foreign embassies. Dutch embassy staff had to move to the German mission because of the clashes.

Iran closed its borders with Iraq in response to the unrest, and Kuwait urged its citizens to leave the country immediately.

All those killed were supporters of Sadr, while around 380 people were injured, Iraqi doctors said, according to the AFP news agency.

A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was alarmed by the events and called for “immediate measures to de-escalate the situation”.

And Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq’s interim prime minister – and an ally of Sadr – declared a nationwide state of siege after unrest spread to several other cities.

He suspended cabinet meetings and asked Sadr to step in and stop the fighting.

For now, Sadr has announced a hunger strike until the violence and use of weapons by all sides stops.

Aged 48, he has been a dominant figure in Iraqi public and political life for the past two decades.

His Mehdi Army became one of the most powerful militias to fight the US and the new Iraqi army after the 2003 invasion that toppled former leader Saddam Hussein.

Later, he renamed it the Peace Brigades and it remained one of the largest militias within the popular mobilization paramilitary forces.

He has millions of followers, hundreds of whom camped outside parliament after storming it twice in July and August in protest at the political stalemate.

Once an ally of Iran, Sadr has repositioned himself as a nationalist who wants to end US and Iranian influence over Iraq’s internal affairs.

Source: Cotidianul RO by

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