Iraq dispatch: protesters storm presidential palace in Baghdad after Muqtada al-Sadr announces withdrawal from politics Dispatches
Provided to JURIST
Iraq dispatch: protesters storm presidential palace in Baghdad after Muqtada al-Sadr announces withdrawal from politics

Gaithe Alwahab is a JURIST staff correspondent in Iraq and a law graduate of  Al Iraqia University. Here he reports from Baghdad, giving this hour-by-hour report of Monday’s violent clashes between political factions in the capital’s Green Zone that resulted in multiple deaths and many injuries.  The text of this report has only been lightly edited to respect the author’s voice.

Monday: waking up in the morning it is a “normal” day in Iraq. Protesters still surround the parliament, tensions are still high in expectations that something is about to happen. The most prominent religious/political figure in Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, had given Iraq’s entire political class 72 hours to decide whether they would accept his ultimatum or not. His ultimatum? Either everyone who came to power after the 2003 US invasion along with their political parties (including himself and his party) drops out from the entire political system and makes space for a new generation of politicians/leaders to rise, or he simply stops involving himself in any kind of political activities at all. This might seem like a good deal for opposing political parties that had been in conflict with him since the elections that took place on the 25th of October 2021. However, it is not. We the people, alongside with the opposing political parties, know that the moment this happens all the people protesting in Green Zone who support Muqtada al-Sadr will not be happy and might escalate the situation much further, and this time their leader will not be there to stop them.

8:31 am : one of the most influential Shi’a religious authorities called “Al- ha’ree” announces that he will no longer continue acting in his role due to old age and illness, and advises all his followers to follow the commands of another religious authority called “Al-khamana’i”, who also happens to be the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The problem with this is that a large number of Sadr supporters used to follow “Al-Ha’ree” and now they have been instructed by their religious leader to follow the commands of Iran’s supreme leader, who is currently the enemy of the Sadrists.

12:53 pm : Muqtada al-Sadr announces that he will no longer be involved in any type of political activity. The news shook us, as we knew that nothing good would follow that. He made clear that he was frustrated with the political system and he had his concerns about “al- ha’ree”’s retirement and the passing of his followers to “al-khaman’i”, that being a political move by Iran. In addition to that, he told his followers to pray for him in case he passed away or was murdered.

1:45 – 6:00 pm : As everyone expected, things escalate, and protesters in the green zone move from the parliament building to the presidential palace. There’s not much resistance, as frankly no one expected the escalation to be that fast. But before we knew it the concrete T-WALLS surrounding the palace started falling at the hands of the protestors and it wasn’t long before they went in. This was a shocking moment for all Iraqis, as that has never happened before, and it is the biggest escalation to happen in any protest in Iraq ever. The protestors stayed inside while condemnations from every political figure followed: the prime minister, the president, political party leaders all asked for Muqtada Al-Sadr to come back and command the protesters, but as he promised he would not take part in any political matter, he did not act. The authorities also announced a curfew starting at 3:30 pm with the end of it being not announced yet. This in itself led to chaos in the streets as most employees in Iraq get out of work at 3:00 pm, so this only added to the sense of tension for the everyday citizen. By 4 to 4:30 pm attempts were being made to get the protestors out of the palace by the riot police while simultaneously more protests from Sadar supporters were popping up in other provinces in Iraq. By 6pm the protesters were driven out of the presidential palace.

7:00-8:00 pm : It was confirmed that 8 people had already been killed. Live rounds are being fired in the Green Zone. The situation was bad and it was the worst-case scenario. Put simply, the Sadrists represent a large population and many are armed, even apart from the fact that the Sadrist movement has one of the strongest militias in Iraq and now, according to them, the ones that have killed their people are the forces of the opposing parties’ militias. This of course led to the inevitable tonight, which is a firefight in the most secure location in Iraq. Sadrist online channels claimed the clashes were between them and the popular mobilization forces only (a militia that played a big role in the war against ISIS but was then involved in activities that made the general population have a divided opinion on them) while the popular mobilization online sources said that the Sadrists were clashing against them and government forces too.

After 9:00pm : clashes grow heavier and more lethal, a full blown street-war is occurring. At 10pm Muqtada al-Sadr announces through a representative of his that he is starting a hunger strike until peace is established again and both sides stop the use of firearms. This does not seem to work, as the street war keeps getting more brutal with even heavy weaponry and explosive weapons like RPGs are being used, violence is also spreading to other provinces with more photos and videos spreading through the internet. In Baghdad most of the fighting is concentrated in one district, the Green Zone, but in other provinces it is not the case. And as time goes on things keep escalating into what is essentially a deadly civil war, where both sides are heavily armed.