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Armed Clashes Erupt in Baghdad

    Armed Clashes Erupt in Baghdad
    Last updated: 2 months ago
    Image credit: AP [via PJ Media]

    Facts

    • The worst armed clashes in recent years erupted in Baghdad on Mon. night between forces loyal to Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the pro-Iran Coordination Framework Alliance (CFA), leaving at least 30 dead. [1]
    • The violence began after al-Sadr announced earlier on Mon. his withdrawal from politics. Pro-Sadr protesters, who had already been occupying Iraq's parliament building in the heavily-guarded Green Zone since late July, pushed into the Republican Palace, clashing with CFA counter-protesters. [1]
    • Soon after, Sadr-aligned militia, Saraya al-Salam, confronted units of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), pro-Iran militias that are associated with the CFA. A small force from the special forces division and the Iraqi Army's 9th Division were also involved, as they tried to contain the fighting. [2]
    • Pro-Sadr forces reportedly fired RPG rounds into the Green Zone as Iraqi security forces returned fire with small arms. On Tues. morning, al-Sadr called for his supporters to withdraw from the capital, ending the fighting, which reportedly left at least 400 people wounded. [3]
    • Iraqi politics has been in a state of turmoil since last October. Al-Sadr's movement formed the largest bloc in parliament, but it couldn't form a majority, as it came into conflict with the CFA and was unable to form a government. In June, the members of Sadr's bloc quit, making the CFA the largest bloc in parliament. [4]
    • Though, in recent years, al-Sadr has become a critic of Iranian influence in Iraq, Iran supported his militia in its fight against US and Iraqi forces during the occupation. Much of his popularity stems from his anti-Iran and anti-US stances. Iraqi Pres. Barham Saleh has called for early legislative elections to help solve the current political crisis. [5]
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    Spin

    Narrative A

    Al-Sadr, who is known for stirring the pot in Iraqi politics, is playing with fire. Though popular with many in the Shiite community, his unruly supporters coupled with his fierce rhetoric are plunging Iraq into civil strife. His actions instigated the violence in Baghdad, and he should make way for the CFA which now has a clear and legal pathway to governance.

    Narrative B

    Despite al-Sadr's position against the West, he may be an unlikely asset to US interests, primarily due to his opposition to Iran. The future of the Sadrist movement depends on preventing Iran-aligned militias from expanding their influence within the state, and the West should make sure it at least tacitly accepts al-Sadr. As the expression goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

    Cynical narrative

    Al-Sadr has already lost to Iran, and antics like this aren't going to change that. The firebrand cleric did quite well in last year's elections, but his inability to form a government has led to a significant loss of ground to Iranian-backed groups.

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