Friday, March 24, 2023

Fighting in Baghdad leaves 23 dead as factional rivalry escalates


BAGHDAD: Fighting between rival Iraqi forces raged for a second day Tuesday with rocket fire echoing from Baghdad’s Green Zone where 23 supporters of  Moqtada Sadr have been shot dead, medics said.

Tensions have soared in Iraq amid a political crisis that has left the country without a new government, prime minister or president for months.

They escalated sharply after Sadr’s supporters on Monday afternoon stormed the government palace inside the high-security Green Zone following their leader’s announcement that he was quitting politics.

The violence pitches backers of Sadr against rival Shiite factions backed by neighbouring Iran, with the sides exchanging gunfire across barricades — violence the United Nations warns risks tipping the war-ravaged country deeper into chaos.

Overnight, shelling targeted the Green Zone that houses government buildings and diplomatic missions, a security source said, amid angry protests after Sadr’s surprise announcement.

Sadr, a grey-bearded preacher with millions of devoted followers who once led a militia against American and Iraqi government forces after the 2003 US-led overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein, announced Monday his “definitive retirement” and said he had “decided not to meddle in political affairs”.

On Tuesday morning, fresh clashes broke out between Sadr’s supporters and the army and men of the Hashed al-Shaabi, former Tehran-backed paramilitaries integrated into the Iraqi forces.

The rattle of automatic gunfire and heavier explosions of rocket-propelled grenades could be heard from the Green Zone.


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