Influential Iraqi cleric announces hunger strike after protesters stormed Baghdad government palace, leaving 23 dead

The influential Shia cleric already withdrew his deputies from the parliament in June because he failed to form a government according to his wishes. Due to disagreements between the parties regarding the formation of a coalition, Iraq has been without a government, prime minister and president since the parliamentary elections in October last year.

Since the end of July, al-Sadr’s supporters have been occupying parliament and protesting near government buildings, blocking the process of electing a new president and parliament. On Monday, they even broke into the government palace in the heavily guarded Green Zone in Baghdad, which houses many government institutions and foreign missions.

Rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) were also reportedly used in the clashes. A security source quoted by AFP said today that the shelling was aimed at the Green Zone, where at least seven missiles were said to have landed. According to a security source, the area was shelled by al-Sadr’s supporters, but the security forces “did not respond”.

Iran closed its borders with Iraq due to the fighting, and Kuwait urged its citizens to leave the country immediately.

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “restraint” in Iraq and called on the parties involved to “immediately take measures to calm the situation”, according to his spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Paris also called for a cessation of hostilities, and concern over the situation was also expressed in Washington.

Al Sadr has announced a hunger strike over the fighting until the violence in the country stops, according to his aide, quoted by the BBC.

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