Hundreds of protesters have descended on the Iraqi government’s palace in Baghdad after an influential Shiite cleric announced his resignation.
At least 15 people have been killed amid conflict between security forces and demonstrators following Muqtada al-Sadr’s resignation announcement, the Associated Press reports, and injuries could be in the dozens or hundreds.
US embassy employees have been evacuated from the “green zone,” Baghdad’s International Zone.
Protesters supporting al-Sadr tore down cement barriers outside the Baghdad government palace and breached palace gates. Video footage circulating online shows protesters swimming in the palace pool.
Iraq’s military announced a nationwide curfew beginning at 7 p.m. in response. Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the caretaker premier, has suspended Cabinet sessions.
Despite winning the most seats in October’s parliamentary elections, al-Sadr’s party did not form a majority government. He’s refused to negotiate with Iran-backed Shiite rivals and has now exited from talks entirely.
But al-Sadr’s has said he’d retire early from politics before. Some speculated Monday’s play was his latest effort to gain leverage on his rivals amid the government deadlock.
Meanwhile, a militia supportive of his efforts, Saraya Salam, gathered in the capital’s Tahrir Square to “protect” protesters, one of its commanders said, according to Fox.
The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq is calling for protesters to leave Baghdad’s International Zone and vacate all governmental buildings.
Iraq’s military is also calling on the cleric’s supporters to withdraw “to prevent clashes or the spilling of Iraqi blood.”
“The security forces affirm their responsibility to protect government institutions, international missions, public and private properties,” they said in a statement.
Protests are also ongoing in the Shiite-majority southern provinces.
Just last month, protestors descended on official residences of top officials in the Sri Lankan government, leading to the resignations of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe in what was yet another people’s rebellion.