Baghdad, Aug 30 (SocialNews.XYZ) At least 11 people were killed as violence broke out in Baghdad's Green Zone when followers of Iraq's influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr stormed the government palace.
As many as 160 people were also injured in the violence, dpa news agency reported, citing a medical source.
Iraqi armed forces fired shots and tear gas to drive protesters out of the government palace, which houses the office of the prime minister, and the fortified area, which houses other government buildings and embassies.
A large number of protesters had been pushed outside the Green Zone and gathered there. Witnesses said they continued to hear shooting inside the Green Zone later in the evening.
The latest developments exacerbate the current political impasse in the country, coming one month after Sadrist protesters stormed the parliament building. The legislature's sessions have been suspended ever since.
Shiite populist cleric al-Sadr announced Monday he was quitting politics and closing his offices and institutions, except religious ones.
"I announce final retirement [from politics]," he said on his Twitter account. "If I die or get killed, I ask for your prayers."
His followers headed to the Green Zone shortly afterwards and began to remove concrete barriers to allow more people to enter the area, despite a heavy security presence.
Some carried pictures of al-Sadr, and others chanted: "The people want to overthrow the regime."
A video shared on social media showed Sadrist protesters entering the government palace, while chanting "peaceful, peaceful."
A demonstrator told the news agency that protesters have been wandering through the palace halls and offices, while others went for a swim at a pool outside the palace.
A nationwide curfew has been imposed.
Al-Sadr is influential in the political scene.
He has not held any political positions, but the Sadrist bloc that is affiliated with him won the largest number of seats in last year's elections. However, they lacked the majority needed to form a government.
As political forces have failed to form a new government or choose a president in more than 10 months since the parliamentary elections, al-Sadr told his lawmakers to quit parliament and demanded early elections.
He has many followers and his ability to mobilise hundreds of thousands nationwide could lead to deadly violence if rival groups also encourage their supporters to protest.
On Monday evening, an aide to al-Sadr said the cleric decided to start a hunger strike until violence ends.
In response, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said he valued al-Sadr's call to stop the violence.
"I call on all to assume the national responsibility for preserving Iraqi blood," al-Kadhimi said.
He also ordered an investigation into the violence and banned security forces from firing live bullets at protesters.