10 Killed After Protesters Storm Iraq’s Government Palace



(Newser)

An influential Shiite cleric announced Monday that he would resign from Iraqi politics, prompting hundreds of his angry followers to storm the government palace and sparking clashes with security forces in which at least 10 protesters were killed. Protesters loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr pulled down the cement barriers outside the government palace with ropes and breached the palace gates, the AP reports. Many rushed into the lavish salons and marbled halls of the palace, a key meeting place for Iraqi heads of state and foreign dignitaries. Iraq’s military announced a nationwide curfew beginning at 7pm and the caretaker premier suspended Cabinet sessions in response to the violence.

The military called on the cleric’s supporters to withdraw immediately from the heavily fortified government zone and to practice self-restraint “to prevent clashes or the spilling of Iraqi blood,” according to a statement. Iraq’s caretaker premier said he would open an investigation into the shootings and said the use of live ammunition against protesters was forbidden. Protests also broke out in the Shiite-majority southern provinces, with al-Sadr’s supporters burning tires and blocking roads in the oil-rich province of Basra and hundreds demonstrating outside the governorate building in Missan.

Iraq’s government has been deadlocked since al-Sadr’s party won the largest share of seats in October parliamentary elections but not enough to secure a majority government. His refusal to negotiate with his Iran-backed Shiite rivals and subsequent exit from the talks has catapulted the country into political uncertainty and volatility amid intensifying intra-Shiite wrangling. This is not the first time al-Sadr, who has called for early elections and the dissolution of parliament, has announced his retirement from politics—and many dismissed Monday’s move as another bluff to gain greater leverage against his rivals amid a worsening stalemate.

(Read more Iraq stories.)