Sadr calls on his supporters to end Baghdad protests after violent clashes

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  • Sadr calls on his supporters to end the protests
  • Iran closes border ahead of Shia pilgrimage next month
  • 22 people killed in clashes in Baghdad; the worst in years
  • Violence erupted after Sadr announced his retirement from politics

BAGHDAD, Aug 30 (Reuters) – Powerful Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday ordered his supporters to end their protests in central Baghdad, facilitating a confrontation that has led to the deadliest violence in the Iraqi capital For years.

Apologizing to Iraqis after 22 people were killed in clashes between an armed group loyal to him and rival Shia Muslim factions backed by Iran, Sadr condemned the fighting and gave his own supporters an hour to disperse.

“It’s not a revolution because it has lost its peaceful character,” Sadr, a former anti-American insurgent leader, said in a televised address. “The spilling of Iraqi blood is prohibited.”

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As the deadline passed around 2:00 p.m. (11:00 GMT), Sadr’s supporters began to leave the area of ​​the walled Green Zone in central Baghdad where government offices are located and where they had occupied parliament for weeks.

Monday’s clashes between rival factions of Iraq’s Shia Muslim majority follow 10 months of political stalemate since October’s parliamentary elections in Iraq, which raised fears of escalating unrest.

Sadr emerged as the primary winner in the election but failed in his efforts to form a government with Arab and Kurdish Muslim Sunni parties, excluding Iran-backed Shia groups.

This week’s violence erupted after Sadr said he was stepping back from political activity – a move he said was a response to the failure of other Shiite leaders and parties to reform a corrupt system of government. and decaying.

NATIONAL CURFEW

The Iraqi military declared an indefinite nationwide curfew on Monday and urged protesters to leave the Green Zone. But an Iraqi government official, speaking on condition of anonymity shortly before Sadr’s call for an end to the protests, said authorities could not impose checks on rival armed groups.

“The government is powerless to stop this because the army is equally divided between (Iranian) loyalists and Sadrists,” the official said.

Earlier on Tuesday, militants fired rockets at the Green Zone and gunmen drove around in pickup trucks carrying machine guns and wielding grenade launchers, while most residents observed curfew. During the night, gunfire and rocket fire rang out across the city.

The United States described the unrest as disturbing and called for dialogue to ease Iraq’s political problems. Neighboring Iran closed the border and halted flights to Iraq, less than three weeks before the Shiite Arbaeen ritual that draws millions of Iranians to the Iraqi city of Karbala.

Sadr has positioned himself as a nationalist who opposes all foreign interference, whether from the United States and the West or from Iran.

He insisted on a snap election and the dissolution of parliament, saying no politician in power since the US invasion in 2003 should remain in office.

He commands a militia thousands strong and has millions of loyal followers across the country. Its opponents, longtime allies of Tehran, control dozens of heavily armed paramilitary groups trained by Iranian forces.

“There are out-of-control militias, yes, but that doesn’t mean the Sadrist movement should also be out of control,” Sadr said in his speech calling for an end to the protests.

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Reporting by John Davison, Moataz Mohamed and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Written by Nadine Awadalla and Dominic Evans; Editing by Alex Richardson and Tomasz Janowski

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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