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Protesters Storm Palace After Powerful Iraqi Cleric Quits, Multiple Deaths Reported

( Daily Caller )

Protesters stormed the palace in Baghdad after populist leader Muqtada al-Sadr announced his resignation from politics, sparking mass demonstrations that have resulted in at least two casualties, according to Reuters and state media.

The powerful Shiite cleric said Monday that inability to form a coalition government with pro-Iran factions compelled him to permanently withdraw from politics and close his offices, state-run Iraqi News Agency reported. Interim Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi indefinitely suspended cabinet meetings after the demonstrators occupied the palace, as Iraqi security forces killed two protesters and wounded at least 19 others in clashes between Sadr’s supporters and Iran-backed groups around Iraq’s Green Zone, Reuters reported.

Kadhimi said the demonstrations “point to the seriousness of the consequences of the continuing and accumulating political differences” in a statement Monday. “The persistence of the political dispute to the point where it is damaging all state institutions does not serve the Iraqi people, their aspirations, their future, and their territorial integrity,” he added.

Hundreds of demonstrators rushed the palace, using ropes to pull down cement barriers and opening the palace gates, The Associated Press reported. Sadr’s supporters in southern Shiite-majority provinces, including Basra and Missan, blocked roads and burned tires.

Sadr’s backers have staged a sit-in for several weeks in the Green Zone, a fortified area of Baghdad housing government buildings, including the main cabinet headquarters, according to Reuters.

Iraqi joint operations forces claimed they were “committed the highest levels of restraint and brotherly dealings to prevent clashes or Iraqi bloodshed” while attempting to quell the protests. Riot police used brute force, tear gas and gunfire to repel protesters from the palace, resulting in at least one dead and several wounded, according to the AP.

The Iraqi security forces announced a curfew beginning at 7 p.m. local time and in force indefinitely, Reuters reported.

Sadr has resigned from and reentered politics several times in the past, according to Reuters.

Iraq has operated with no official government, new prime minister or new president since Sadr failed to obtain a sufficient majority with Kurdish and Sunni Arab parties in October elections to avoid forming a coalition government with Iran-backed factions.

A video showing U.S. embassy personnel evacuating from Baghdad is false, a State Department official told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Sadr has urged his followers to occupy parliament, thereby forcing its dissolution and triggering early elections, according to Reuters. In 2016, Sadr’s followers overran the Iraqi parliament building in an apparent attempt to disrupt and overthrow the government led by former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Neither Sadr, who bears responsibility for the deaths of U.S. troops during the Iraq war, nor Kadhimi, whose casual attitude toward Iran has allowed Tehran’s proxies in the state to flourish, present a positive image for the future of democracy and U.S. interests in Iraq, experts told the DCNF last week.

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