Report: Followers of Iraqi Shiite Cleric Storm Government Palace in Baghdad, U.S. Embassy Employees Evacuated

Hundreds of Shiite protesters stormed Iraq’s presidential palace, and U.S. Embassy employees were evacuated from a roof in Baghdad Monday, amid ongoing demonstrations throughout the country.

A city-wide curfew for civilians and vehicles was announced on Monday to quell rising tensions.

The uprising came after Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential Shiite cleric, announced that he was his resigning from politics.

Protesters breached the presidential palace in Baghdad, chanting anti-Iran slogans such as “Iraq’s Federal Court in Hands of Iran’s IRGC,” according to a video released on Monday.

Photos show Al-Sadr’s supporters swimming in the pool of the Government Palace during the protest.

(Photo by Ameer Al-Mohammedawi/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The Presidential Palace is a key meeting place for Iraqi heads of state and foreign dignitaries.

Another video posted on social media Monday purports to show U.S. Embassy employees in Baghdad being evacuated from a roof by military helicopter for safety. “The US embassy employees have been evacuated from the #Green_Zone by the helicopter,” tweeted Syrian journalist Khaled Iskef.

The al-Sadr protesters “filled lavish waiting rooms in the palace and chanted slogans in support of the cleric,” the Washington Post reported.

Shortly after Muqtada al-Sadr announced his “final” retirement from politics, hundreds of his followers rushed to the government palace, the seat of the caretaker government. It was the first time his followers have attempted to breach the palace since thousands of them stormed Iraq’s parliament to prevent al-Sadr’s rivals from forming a government.
The protesters used ropes to pull down cement barriers leading to the palace gates.

Iraq’s military called on the protesters to withdraw immediately from the Green Zone and to practice self-restraint “to prevent clashes or the spilling of Iraqi blood,” according to a statement.

“The security forces affirm their responsibility to protect government institutions, international missions, public and private properties,” the statement said.
In a tweet, the cleric said he was withdrawing from politics and ordered the closure of his party offices. It is not the first time al-Sadr has announced his retirement from politics, but many fear it could spur more escalation.

In a statement Monday, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Iraq announced that comprehensive curfew is being enforced in Baghdad.

“Ongoing demonstrations within and around the International Zone have disrupted transit routes and local services,” the statement read. “Even peaceful demonstrations can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. A comprehensive curfew in Baghdad has been announced for all citizens and vehicles, starting at 15:30 today Monday, August 29.”

Other Iraqi cities seeing unrest in recent days include Basrah, Dhi Qar, Maysan, and Muthanna provinces, the U.S. Embassy statement said.

Routine public consular services at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad have been suspended since January 1, 2020 as a result of an attack on the Embassy compound on December 31, 2019. “U.S. Consulate General Erbil remains open for routine American Citizens Services,” the statement said.

The embassy advised Americans to “avoid the area of the demonstrations,” “exercise caution” in the vicinity of large gatherings or protests, “keep a low profile,” and “monitor local media for updates.”

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) issued a statement on Monday calling the developments “an extremely dangerous escalation, and urging protesters to immediately leave Baghdad’s International Zone, and “to vacate all governmental buildings” so the government can “continue its responsibilities of running the State in service of the Iraqi people.”

Today’s developments are an extremely dangerous escalation. State institutions must operate unimpeded in service of the Iraqi people, under all circumstances and at all times. Respect for constitutional order will now prove vital.

UNAMI urges all to remain peaceful, cooperate with security forces and refrain from acts that could lead to an unstoppable chain of events. UNAMI also calls on all (political) actors to work towards de-escalating tensions and resort to dialogue as the only means to resolve differences. Iraqis cannot be held hostage to an unpredictable and untenable situation. The very survival of the State is at stake.

Iraq’s government has been in turmoil since October when al-Sadr’s party won the most seats in the election but failed form a majority government.

His bloc later resigned from parliament and his supporters last month stormed the parliament building in Baghdad. Al-Sadr has demanded that parliament be dissolved and early elections held.

A convoy of al-Sadr’s militia, Saraya al-Salam, was seen rolling into Tahrir Square in Baghdad Monday night, according to Iskef’s reporting on Twitter.

Muqtada al-Sadr reportedly formed the Saraya al-Salam militia in June 2014 in response to the Islamic State’s territorial gains in Iraq.

 

About Debra Heine

Debra Heine is a conservative Catholic mom of six and longtime political pundit. She has written for several conservative news websites over the years, including Breitbart and PJ Media.

Photo: 29 August 2022, Iraq, Baghdad: Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr enter the Government Palace during a protest. Followers of al-Sadr headed to the building shortly after the Shiite cleric said he would retire from politics. Photo: Ameer Al-Mohammedawi/dpa (Photo by Ameer Al-Mohammedawi/picture alliance via Getty Images)

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