Baghdad's Green Zone Erupts Into War Zone Following Resignation Of Al-Sadr
BAGHDAD - Following the resignation of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Monday, August 29th, followers who supported him, stormed the green zone with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and automatic rifle fire as Iraqi security forces fought back, sparking a major escalation in the political deadlock that has gripped the nation.
The location in Baghdad which once housed the U.S. military, known as the green zone, now holds foreign embassies and Iraqi government offices has become a war zone as battles have been ongoing for two days now.
The government of Iraq has been locked in a political battle since last October when Al-Sadr's party won the majority of seats in the Iraqi parliament elections; however, it was not a big enough sweep to win the entire government for the party, and the fighting amongst rival Shiite groups began.
The rivals, which Al-Sadr has up til now refused to negotiate with are supported by Iran, and his decision on Monday to resign and retire has thrown Iraq into an unpredictable political situation with no clear view of a way out.
The remainder of the country remains largely calm and Iraqi oil continues to flow to international markets, but the violence now threats to widen the political divide as Iran has now sealed off its Iraqi border.
Bystanders in the streets filmed supporters of al-Sadr firing RPGs and automatic rifle fire into the heavily defended Iraqi Green Zone through a partially erected concrete wall, with military tanks on the other side of the area barriers, as black smoke rose over the area, visible for miles away.
According to the Associated Press, the madness has resulted in 30 deaths and 400 wounded, stated 2 Iraqi medical officials. They also said that this toll includes members of both al-Sadr supporters and rival Shiite groups that have been killed in the clashes. These numbers are expected to rise as fighting continues in the Green Zone. All of these statements are coming from officials within the Iraqi government who wished to remain anonymous, as they were not authorized to speak regarding the situation to the press.
The Centre for Research and Evidence On Security Treats has given a very good analysis of similarities and differences between Sunni and Shi'a Islam.
A Brief History
During the reign of the Hussein regime, which were members of the Sunni Muslim Sect, the Shiite Muslims were largely oppressed. The invasion, led by the United States, changed the political order in the country. Now Iraqi Shiite Muslims, who are nationalists in the Al-Sadr corner, are fighting for power and influence with other Shiite groups that are backed by Iran.
Similarities in Belief of the Sunni and Shi'a groups
- Acceptance of centrality of the Qur'an
- Both groups draw on the Hadith, though each group draws from different collections of writings
- Both groups accept the five pillars of Islam
- Both groups became prominent around the Ninth Century, and one is not a branch of the other
Differences in Belief of the Sunni and Shi'a groups
Leadership of all Muslims following the death of Muhammad
- Sunni Muslims Follow a lineage of leaders descended from Muhammad's companion, Abu Bakr, and the selection of the leader of Islam is based on a democratic election.
- Shiite Muslims Follow a lineage of leaders descended from Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali, and the selection of the leader of Islam is based on familial inheritance.
According to Britannica, Al-Sadr is a Shiite Muslim Cleric who is revered in Iraq among the majority of Shiite Muslims. He is the son of Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, a prominent figure in the Islamic World. His father-in-law, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, was a heavy influence on Al-Sadr also with his conservative views and his founding of the political Da'wah Party. His father-in-law was executed for opposing Saddam Hussein in 1980.
The Current Political Situation
The nationalist movement rhetoric and its agenda of reformation of Al-Sadr, speaks to the hearts and minds of those that follow him, who mainly come from the most impoverished corners of Iraqi society, and had been previously shut out under Sadaam's regime. His announcement of his retirement has indirectly given his followers freedom to act as they wish.
Iran sealed its borders, citing civil unrest and military-imposed curfews in Iraqi cities for making its decision. Iran has also urged its citizens to avoid traveling to Iraq if at all possible. This decision was made as the world Shiite movement is planning for an annual pilgrimage to Shiite sites. Iran has also told its Iranian pilgrims already in Iraq, to avoid traveling to other cities.
Kuwait, a country once invaded by Iraq and sparked the U.S. military operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, has called on its citizens to leave Iraq as soon as they could, safely. KUNA news, Kuwait's state-run news agency has also told those that are planning to go to Iraq, to wait and delay their plans.
The Dutch government, in the Netherlands, has evacuated its embassy in the Green Zone, according to Wopke Hoekstra, Foreign Affairs Minister, Netherlands, in a tweet:
"There are firefights around the embassy in Baghdad. Our staff are now working at the German embassy elsewhere in the city..." - Wopke Hoekstra, Foreign Affairs Minister, Netherlands
Emirates airlines, which is based out of Dubai, has halted all flights inbound to Baghdad, and states that it is monitoring the situation. The airline did not specify when flights would resume.
There were reports that the U.S. Embassy in Iraq had been evacuated out of the Green Zone, but these reports have proven to be false. In a statement release, the Embassy said this:
"Reports of unrest throughout Iraq today are disturbing as Iraqi institutions are not being allowed to operate. The United States is concerned about escalating tensions and urges all parties to remain peaceful and refrain from acts that could lead to a cycle of violence. Iraq's security, stability, and sovereignty should not be put at risk..."
Stated by Newsweek quoting a tweet from Fox News:
"State Department says reports the US evacuated its Embassy in Baghdad are false... " - Jennifer Griffin, Fox News
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