In Baghdad, Iraq, supporters of Iraqi politician Muqtada al-Sadr stormed the Green Zone Monday night after al-Sadr announced his retirement from politics. At least 30 people were killed by tear gas and bullets and hundreds were seriously injured after clashing with security forces in the capital.
Iraqi President Barham Salih said in a statement Monday: “The difficult circumstances our country is going through require everyone to remain calm and restrained, to prevent escalation and to ensure that the situation does not descend into unknown and dangerous labyrinths. in which everyone will lose.”
The violence has also sparked an international reaction. Iran closed all land borders with Iraq until further notice, Turkey warned its citizens to avoid travel to the region, and other actors including Canada, the United States, the European Union and UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed their concerns and called for help a peaceful end to the violence. These calls for de-escalation are necessary as the civilian death toll continues to rise and protesters continue to violently clash with Iraqi security forces.
The political instability seen today can be traced back to more than 10 months ago in October 2021, when al-Sadr failed to assemble a parliament after elections that excluded his Iran-backed rivals. Instead, after months of political turmoil, al-Sadr called for a mass exit from his bloc in June 2022, describing the move as “a sacrifice on my part for the country and the people to liberate them from the unknown fate.” 73 MPs resigned.
Little has changed in the tense political climate in Iraq since her resignation. Monday’s protests came about a month after al-Sadr’s supporters staged a sit-in in Iraq’s parliament in late July that lasted several days. Their demands included “early elections, constitutional changes and the overthrow[ing] by al-Sadr’s opponents,” according to NPR.
However, the calls for early elections could have negative long-term consequences, said Marsin Alshamary, a research fellow at Harvard University. Alshamary tells Al Jazeera that early elections “would make Iraqis feel that they really have no say in how their country’s electoral process unfolds, because it really can be ignited by an unruly and unhappy political figure.”
The fallout from a dysfunctional caretaker government since October is deeply worrying. Without a functioning parliament, schools and hospitals have suffered, and basic necessities like water and electricity are becoming increasingly difficult for ordinary citizens to obtain, raising widespread concern.
Al-Sadr claimed he hoped his resignation would help break the deadlock in the Iraqi government, but based on the deadly protests that have taken place since Monday, his announcement appears to have done just the opposite.