Washington has denied that its embassy in the Iraqi capital was evacuated amid the chaos
Two people were killed and 19 injured in clashes between security forces and supporters of the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr near the Republican Palace in Baghdad, Sky News Arabia reported, citing Iraqi medical sources. The US State Department denied reports that its embassy had been evacuated.
Deaths have taken place “between” from the walled Green Zone, where the palace and US Embassy are located, the medical sources told Sky News Arabia. Earlier, hundreds of protesters had knocked down concrete barriers and stormed the palace. It came after al-Sadr announced his resignation from politics after months of failed attempts to form a government in the face of opposition from Shia factions allied with Iran.
Shortly before news of the victims broke, news agency AFP reported that gunshots could be heard ringing above the Green Zone. This gunshot can be heard in video footage from the scene.
The Iraqi army responded to the palace breach by declaring a citywide curfew, as military reinforcements were dispatched to deal with crowds of al-Sadr loyalists pouring into the Green Zone. Water cannons were used to repel protesters and ongoing battles between security guards and protesters were reported.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraqi interim prime minister and ally of al-Sadr, called on the crowd to withdraw from the area. Sky News Arabia reported that some of the protesters began leaving the Green Zone soon after, before trying to re-enter it.
Once the nerve center of the American occupation, the Green Zone is still home to several foreign embassies and international organizations, and the headquarters of successive Iraqi governments after the invasion have been based there.
As the area descended into chaos, video footage captured a helicopter taking off from the roof of what appeared to be the US Embassy – a scene reminiscent of the chaotic US withdrawal from Kabul last August. Several unconfirmed reports suggested personnel were being evacuated from the embassy, although the State Department told Fox News those reports were “fake.”
In a statement released late Monday, the US diplomatic mission in Iraq said it was “concerned by the escalation of tensions and urges all parties to remain peaceful.”
Infighting between al-Sadr’s political bloc and the Framework Coordination Alliance – a Shiite bloc allied with Iran – prevented the cleric from forming a government after winning 73 of the 329 seats in the Iraqi legislature last year. Al-Sadr, an outspoken critic of foreign influence in Iraq, has sought to exclude the coordination framework of a potential government, prompting the latter to attempt to form its own government.
Al-Sadr supporters have occupied Iraq’s parliament since late July to prevent such an outcome, and the cleric has called for parliament to be dissolved and new elections held.
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