The political conflict in Iraq continued to turn violent on Tuesday night. Videos showed the militia Saraja al-Salam led by the influential Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr fighting heavy battles with militias loyal to Iran in the so-called Green Zone in Baghdad. Long volleys of fire could be heard. At least 11 people were killed and 160 others injured, medical sources said. The news site Al-Sumaria reported 15 dead and 350 injured. The fighting continued on Tuesday morning despite a curfew.
Numerous government institutions, the Iraqi parliament and several embassies, including the US diplomatic mission, are located in the Green Zone, which is around ten square kilometers in size and actually highly secured, in the center of Baghdad. The area is actually considered a comparatively safe haven.
Dutch embassy evacuated
Several rockets also reportedly fell in the Green Zone during the night. Videos on social networks are said to show that the missile defense system (C-Ram) to protect the US embassy was then activated.
Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said there was fighting in the area around his embassy. The employees had been evacuated and would work temporarily from the German embassy. The situation in Iraq is "very tense" and changing rapidly, Hoekstra wrote on Twitter.
Supporters of the influential clergyman Al-Sadr stormed the government palace housing Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kasimi's office on Monday and temporarily occupied it. Al-Sadr had previously announced his retirement from politics. Late Monday evening, the 48-year-old religious leader also announced that he would go on a hunger strike until violence against his followers ceased.
Al-Sadr's movement emerged as the strongest force in last October's parliamentary elections. However, it failed to form a government. Al-Sadr refused to cooperate with parties close to Iran. This led to a split in the Shiite camp. Al-Sadr also does not want to accept a head of government proposed by his political opponents. A political stalemate ensued, which steadily worsened over the months. Al-Sadr is calling for new elections as a way out of the crisis. A month ago, his supporters had already occupied the parliament building.
UN Secretary-General Guterres concerned
A nationwide curfew was actually in effect in Baghdad from Monday afternoon and from the same evening. Prime Minister Al-Kasimi ordered official working hours to be suspended across the country on Tuesday. According to the cabinet of the state news agency INA, this was announced during the night.
The Sadrist demonstrations also spread to other provinces. According to reports, his supporters also took to the streets in Basra and Dhi Kar in the south and occupied provincial government buildings. Jisar al-Maliki, an analyst at the Middle East Economic Survey (MEES), wrote that it is still unlikely that the conflict will escalate into a nationwide "civil war among Shiites".
UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concern about the protests. He calls for calm and restraint, said his spokesman. In a statement, the European Union described it as "crucial that all actors refrain from actions that could lead to further violence". The US Ambassador to Iraq, Alina Romanowski, declared that the "security, stability and independence of Iraq" could not be jeopardized.