After violence erupted in Baghdad, Iraq, there were false rumors that the U.S. embassy had been evacuated. But though there has been no evacuation, the tensions in Iraq are mounting and the prominent Shiite cleric behind them disapproves of American, as well as Iranian influences in the country.
Muqtada al-Sadr, a prominent Shiite cleric, announced on Monday that he would be resigning from Iraqi politics. In response, hundreds of his followers stormed the government palace in Baghdad, leaving at least 10 protesters dead, and there were false reports circulated that the U.S. Embassy was evacuated, according to The Associated Press.
“I hereby announce my final withdrawal,” al-Sadr announced in a tweet on Monday.
Al-Sadr has drawn much support by opposing both Iranian and U.S. influences on Iraqi politics, Reuters reported.
He has even insisted that no politician who has been in power since the U.S. invasion in 2003 should hold office.
His inflammatory move to resign now comes after months of al-Sadr’s supporters demonstrating in support of his call for the dissolution of the Iraqi parliament, which has been deadlocked for 10 months, Al Jazeera reported.
This deadlock has resulted in the longest period of time that Iraq has gone without a functioning government.
After al-Sadr’s announcement, those loyal to the cleric went to the Iraqi government palace, pulled down cement barriers outside and then breached the gates. Many entered the building itself, even though there was a clash with security forces, the Washington Post reported.
— Tammuz Intel (@Tammuz_Intel) August 29, 2022
There were then reports that the U.S. embassy was being evacuated and that embassy employees were seen leaving the Green Zone via helicopter, the Post Millenial reported.
However, there have also been reports that the State Department announced that the rumors of these evacuations were false, as Jennifer Griffin, a National Security Correspondent for Fox News tweeted.
State Dept says reports the US evacuated its Embassy in Baghdad are false.
From a State Department Spokesperson:
•These reports are false.
•As a matter of policy, we do not comment on matters involving internal security.
— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) August 29, 2022
CNN’s Chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins also tweeted that there has been confirmation that the embassy evacuation rumors were false.
“The National Security Council’s John Kirby says the clashes in Baghdad are ‘disturbing,’ but reports that the U.S. embassy has been evacuated are false,” Collins tweeted.
The National Security Council’s John Kirby says the clashes in Baghdad are “disturbing,” but reports that the U.S. embassy has been evacuated are false.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) August 29, 2022
However, now many are watching the events in Iraq unfold as the protests became violent and Iraq’s military has been responding.
The Iraqi military has announced a nationwide curfew and the caretaker premier suspended government Cabinet meetings in response to the violence, the Post reported.
At the time of publication, AP has reported that while 10 protesters have been killed so far, at least 15 were wounded by gunfire and a dozen were injured by tear gas and physical conflict.
The government deadlock and subsequent tensions in Iraq began in October when al-Sadr’s party won the largest share of parliament seats in the elections. But the party did not win enough seats to secure a majority government, according to the Post.
The cleric then refused to negotiate with Iran-backed Shiite rivals, though he himself is an important Shiite cleric.
The refusals for negotiations then sent Iraq spiraling into political chaos as inter-Shiite fighting also increased.
However, though much of the tensions spring from infighting inside the Shiite sect, al-Sadr’s influence was considerable among the population since he paired his politics with a nationalist and reform agenda, the Post reported.
Due to this, much of his support base can be found among the poorest parts of Iraqi society; people who have been shut out of Iraqi politics for most of history.
Now, with the deadlock, al-Sadr’s constituency and many throughout Iraq are calling for the dissolution of parliament and another round of elections, this time excluding Iran-supported groups that have been viewed as responsible for the current situation.
While opposition against Iranian influence is particularly strong, al-Sadr and his followers have not supported U.S. intervention and it is yet to be seen how Iraq will act toward the U.S. as it attempts to pull its government together again.
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