Political crisis continues in Baghdad after bloody clashes
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi paramilitary forces killed in heavy clashes with the supporters of a powerful Shiite cleric were laid to rest on Wednesday as Iraq’s parliament speaker announced three days of mourning.
Normal life crept back in Baghdad after a bloody 24 hours when the supporters of populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr clashed with Iraqi security forces inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government.
At least 30 people, both al-Sadr’s loyalists and Iraqi security forces, were killed, and over 400 people were wounded after trading fire for hours this week. Al-Sadr later called on his supporters to withdraw on Tuesday, spurring a de-escalation of hostilities.
The White House said that U.S. President Joe Biden expressed condolences and support to Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi during a phone call on Wednesday.
Still, the threat of more clashes loomed as the political rivalry between al-Sadr and his Iran-backed rivals in the Coordination Framework have not been settled. Tensions between the two camps are still palpable and a way out of Iraq’s 10-month political vacuum does not appear within reach.
Both camps disagree over the appropriate mechanism to dissolve parliament and hold early elections, key demands of al-Sadr. His party won the 2021 federal election but was not able to reach the legislative quorum to vote in a government that excluded his Iran-friendly rivals.
Al-Sadr’s representative, who goes by the Twitter moniker Mohammed Saleh al-Iraqi, called on Iran to “rein in her camel” in Iraq — a reference to the Framework — or face the consequences. The strong language was unusual from al-Sadr’s camp, indicating tensions are still simmering.
The statement came in response to an earlier plea from the Framework calling on the parliament to convene, a move al-Sadr’s supporters prevented by storming the legislative assembly in July.
A funeral procession for four members of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a state-sanctioned umbrella of paramilitaries among which Iran-backed Shiite militias are the most powerful, was held in Baghdad. Key leaders from the Framework attended.
Iraq’s Parliament Speaker Mohammed Halbousi declared three days of mourning for those killed in the clashes, according to a statement from his office.
Shop-owners in the capital’s markets said they were relieved the army lifted the curfew, fearing a drawn-out conflict would have undermined their livelihoods. Many residents said they feared a return to clashes.