Influential Iraqi Shiite cleric says he’ll retire, sparking fear of unrest

Hundreds of followers of an influential Shiite cleric scaled the cement barriers leading to Iraq’s government palace after he announced his resignation from politics Monday, spurring fears of more volatility amid an unprecedented political crisis.

Shortly after Muqtada Sadr announced his “final” retirement from politics, hundreds of his followers rushed to the government palace in Baghdad, the seat of Iraq’s caretaker government. It was the first time Sadr’s followers have attempted to breach the palace since thousands of them stormed Iraq’s parliament to prevent his rivals from forming a government.

The protesters used ropes to pull down cement barriers leading to the palace gates.

Iraq’s military called on the protesters to withdraw immediately from the Green Zone and to practice self-restraint “to prevent clashes or the spilling of Iraqi blood,” according to a statement.

“The security forces affirm their responsibility to protect government institutions, international missions, public and private properties,” the statement said.


In a tweet, Sadr said he was withdrawing from politics and ordered the closure of his party offices. It is not the first time he has announced his retirement from politics, but many fear it could escalate tensions.

Sadr’s statement Monday was a reaction to the retirement of Shiite spiritual leader Ayatollah Kadhim Haeri, who counts many of Sadr’s supporters as followers. The previous day, Haeri announced that he would be stepping down as a religious authority and called on his followers to support Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not the Shiite spiritual center in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf.

The move was a blow to Sadr. In his statement, he said Haeri’s stepping down “was not out of his own volition.”

Sadr won the largest share of seats in elections last October but failed to form a majority government, leading to what has become one of the worst political crises in Iraq in recent years.

His bloc later resigned from parliament, and his supporters last month stormed the parliament building in Baghdad. Sadr has demanded that parliament be dissolved and early elections held.