Iraq: Moqtada al-Sadr supporters invade the government palace and swim in the pool

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On Monday, August 29, Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr announced he was withdrawing from Iraqi politics in a Twitter post. Almost immediately after the announcement, hundreds of his supporters swarmed the government palace in Baghdad, in the heart of the heavily secured Green Zone. After the crowd was cleared from the perimeter, a curfew was imposed at 2:30pm local time, which the army lifted the following day.

At least 23 civilians were killed on Monday in clashes between security forces and pro-al-Sadr militias in Baghdad's Green Zones. Gunfire broke out after al-Sadr supporters swarmed the government palace.

Hundreds of men shouted, chanted and ran through the corridors of the palace in Baghdad, where cabinet meetings are normally held. Videos and photos show how, from early afternoon, supporters of al-Sadr stormed the building, home of the the Iraqi Council of Ministers.

Some of al-Sadr's supporters took it upon themselves to cool off in the palace pool, taking with them the Iraqi flag and framed photos of their leader.

Security forces quickly cordoned off several bridges and routes to the Green Zone, where many state structures, television stations and embassies are located. They dispersed the crowds with tear gas and water cannons.

Some videos show police walking through the crowds of protesters and trying to reason with them.

The prime minister announced a temporary suspension of the Council of Ministers' activities and called for a state of emergency in Baghdad, including a 2:30pm curfew in the capital, extended to 7pm for the rest of the country. The curfew was lifted on Tuesday, August 30.

On Tuesday, al-Sadr called on his supporters to end the protests, adding that "the spilling of Iraqi blood is forbidden".

In other cities, local supporters stormed provincial government buildings, such as this one in Dhi Qar. The protesters are chanting Shia prayers.

This isn't the first time that people have demonstrated en masse in support of al-Sadr. In July, his followers stormed the Iraqi parliament to denounce his opponent's bid for prime minister.

Since the 2021 Iraqi parliamentary elections, the Shiite cleric, who was hostile to anti-government protests in October 2019, has called on his supporters to take to the streets and demonstrate against the formation of a new government composed of a coalition of pro-Iranian political parties.

Al-Sadr had previously announced his retirement from politics in 2013 and 2014, in order to pressure his political opponents and mobilise his supporters in the streets, before taking over the reins of his party. According to FRANCE 24 reporter Ammar al-Hameedaoui, the Sadrist party leader could very soon resume political activity as before.

Iraq has been in political crisis for a year, as the parliament, composed mostly of the dissolved Sadrist movement, has failed to form a new government and appoint a new president.

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