Iran closes its border with Iraq after riots sparked by followers of Shiite cleric Al Sadr in Baghdad | International
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Violent clashes between militias affiliated with the powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and rival groups in Baghdad on Monday have prompted Iran to close its borders with Iraq on Tuesday and advise its citizens to avoid traveling to the neighboring country, according to official sources cited by Reuters. . This new outbreak of violence has already caused at least 35 deaths and 250 injuries, after supporters of Al Sadr stormed the Presidential Palace after the cleric’s announcement of his withdrawal from political life. The riots and the announcement by the Iranian authorities come with two weeks to go before what is considered the largest religious pilgrimage in the world: the Arbain (forty in Arabic), which is held every year in the Iraqi city of Kerbala and which brings together millions of Shiites.
Of those millions of faithful, many are Iranian. The Arbain pilgrimage owes its name to the fact that it is celebrated on the fortieth and last day of mourning after Ashura, the most important holiday in the Shia calendar, which commemorates the martyrdom in Kerbala of the third Shia imam, Hussein Ibn Ali. This year, the Arbain is celebrated on September 16 and 17.
“The border with Iraq has been closed. For security reasons, it is necessary for Iranians to refrain from traveling to Iraq until further notice,” Iranian Deputy Interior Minister Majid Mirahmadi said. State television reported in turn that his country has suspended all flights to Iraqi territory. “We are trying to organize an emergency flight to bring back Iranians from Iraq and Baghdad, who are currently at the airport. We hope to evacuate them today,” said a senior official of the Iranian aviation body.
Muqtada al Sadr called on his followers on Tuesday to withdraw from the Green Zone – the fortified area of the Iraqi capital that houses the main government buildings, such as the Presidential Palace and the Government Palace, as well as foreign embassies – and gave them a one hour for it. He also apologized to the population. Shortly after, the Iraqi security forces announced the lifting of the curfew imposed the day before from seven in the evening. Baghdad had woken up amid intermittent clashes, especially in the Green Zone. Despite a nationwide curfew, skirmishes had continued overnight in the capital and other regions. A source from the Baghdad Operations Command raised, in statements to Efe, the death toll in the riots to 35, while the wounded are already 250.
The Iraqi Security Forces have confirmed that the militias involved in the clashes have even used weapons of war, such as the four missiles that hit a housing complex in the Green Zone in the morning, the Security Information Cell said in a statement. of the Iraqi government. That agency reported that the projectiles had been launched from the areas of Al Habibiya, in Sadr City, a densely populated area with a Shiite majority in eastern Baghdad, and from the Al Baladiyat neighborhood.
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A serious political crisis
Since the early elections last October, Iraq has been mired in a serious political paralysis that refers to the clashes over the distribution of power between blocks of the Shiite majority that have governed the Arab country since the US invasion in 2003. Sairun (Walkers) , the formation led by Al Sadr, managed to win the largest number of seats at the polls: 73 of the 329, which was not enough to form a government without its main Shiite rivals, the majority aligned with Iran.
The differences between the followers of Al Sadr (Nayaf, 49 years old) and his pro-Iranian rivals of the Coordination Framework crystallized in their inability to agree on choosing a new president and prime minister. According to the division of positions agreed after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the position of prime minister is held by a member of the Shiite majority; the presidency, a Kurd; and the presidency of Parliament, a Sunni. In June, Sadrist deputies resigned en bloc at the order of their leader. On July 27, his supporters took to the streets and stormed Parliament, protesting his rivals’ proposal for prime minister. Since then, they have remained camped in front of their headquarters.
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