Iraq: At least 23 dead amid fighting after Moqtada al-Sadr quits

 Iraq: At least 23 dead amid fighting after Moqtada al-Sadr quits

At least 23 people have been killed in some of the worst fighting for years in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, sparked by a key leader’s decision to quit politics.

Gunshots and rocket-fire rang out as supporters of Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr clashed with security forces and militias aligned with Iran.

Mr Sadr has ordered his supporters to withdraw from outside parliament, where they have been protesting for weeks.

Iraq has been in a state of paralysis since inconclusive elections in 2021.

The violence began on Monday after Mr Sadr, one of Iraq’s most influential figures, said he was withdrawing from political life.

His bloc won the most seats in October’s elections but could not agree on the formation of a new government with the second largest bloc, comprised mainly of Iran-backed parties.

Once an Iranian ally, Mr Sadr has repositioned himself as a nationalist wanting to end US and Iranian influence over Iraq’s internal affairs.

The fighting has been taking place between Mr Sadr’s militia, known as the Peace Brigades, militias supported by Iran, and members of the Iraqi security forces.

Much of it has been concentrated around the city’s Green Zone, a heavily fortified area that houses government buildings and foreign embassies. Dutch embassy staff were forced to move to the German mission due to the clashes.

Iran has closed its borders with Iraq in response to the unrest, and Kuwait has urged its citizens to leave the country immediately.

All of those killed were Mr Sadr’s supporters, while some 380 were injured, Iraqi medics said, according to AFP news agency.

A spokesperson for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was alarmed by events and called for “immediate steps to de-escalate the situation”.

On Tuesday Mr Sadr apologised to the Iraqi people for the violence and instructed his supporters to leave their protests.