Two dead, 19 injured in Baghdad clashes – media
Washington has denied that its embassy in the Iraqi capital was evacuated amid the chaos
Two people were killed and 19 injured in clashes between security forces and supporters of influential Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr near the Republican Palace in Baghdad on Monday, Sky News Arabia has reported, citing Iraqi medical sources. The US State Department denied reports that its embassy had been evacuated.
The deaths took place “in the middle” of the fortified Green Zone, where the palace and US embassy are situated, the medical sources told Sky News Arabia. Earlier, hundreds of protesters had pulled down concrete barriers and stormed the palace. This came after al-Sadr announced his resignation from politics following months of failed attempts to form a government in the face of opposition from rival, Iran-allied Shia factions.
Shortly before news of the casualties broke, the news agency AFP reported that gunshots could be heard echoing over the Green Zone. This gunfire can be heard in video footage from the scene.
The Iraqi military responded to the breaching of the palace by declaring a citywide curfew, as military reinforcements were hurried in to deal with the crowds of al-Sadr loyalists flooding into the Green Zone. Water cannons were used to repel the demonstrators, and running battles between security officers and protesters were reported.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq’s caretaker prime minister and an ally of al-Sadr, called on the crowds to withdraw from the area. Sky News Arabia reported that some of the demonstrators began to leave the Green Zone shortly afterwards, before trying to enter again.
Once the nerve center of the US occupation, the Green Zone still houses multiple foreign embassies and international organizations, and the headquarters of successive post-invasion Iraqi governments have been based there.
With the zone descending into chaos, video footage captured a helicopter taking off from the roof of what appeared to be the US embassy – a scene reminiscent of the chaotic American withdrawal from Kabul last August. Several unconfirmed reports suggested that staff were being evacuated from the embassy, although the State Department told Fox News that these reports were “false.”
In a statement released on Monday evening, the US’ diplomatic mission in Iraq said it is “concerned about escalating tensions and urges all parties to remain peaceful.”
Infighting between al-Sadr’s political bloc and the Coordination Framework Alliance – a Shia bloc allied with Iran – prevented the cleric from forming a government after winning 73 seats in the 329-seat Iraqi legislature last year. Al-Sadr, a vocal critic of foreign influence in Iraq, sought to exclude the Coordination Framework from a potential government, prompting the latter to attempt to form a government of its own.
Al-Sadr’s supporters have occupied the Iraqi parliament since late July to prevent such an outcome, and the cleric has called for the dissolution of parliament and fresh elections.