Iraqis heed cleric’s plea to leave streets after clashes at least 11 people have been killed and dozens wounded in clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces. The violence erupted after a senior Shiite cleric called on demonstrators to leave the streets and end their nearly two-month-long sit-in.
The unrest began in early October when protesters took to the streets of Baghdad to demand an end to corruption, unemployment, and poor public services. Since then, more than 400 people have been killed and over 15,000 wounded in clashes with security forces.
The latest violence came after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, called on protesters to end their sit-in and give the government a chance to implement reforms. “Those who are killed or wounded while protesting are martyrs of a noble cause,” he said in a statement.
However, many protesters have vowed to continue their sit-in until their demands are met. “We will not leave until our demands are met,” said one protester. “The blood of our martyrs will not be in vain.”
Following two days of deadly unrest that sparked fears instability might spread throughout the country and even the region, cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, 48, told his supporters to leave the government quarter where they had rallied. Within minutes, some could be seen heeding the call, dismantling their tents, and walking out of the area known as the Green Zone.
Iraq’s government has been deadlocked since al-Sadr’s party won the largest share of seats in October parliamentary elections but not enough to secure a majority government. That led to months of political infighting between al-Sadr’s Shiite followers and his Iran-backed Shiite rivals before it became violent Monday.
At least 30 people were killed, officials said, before al-Sadr urged those loyal to him to go home, following pleas for restraint from several Iraqi officials and the United Nations.
In addition to closing its borders, Iran urged its citizens to avoid any travel to the neighboring country, citing the unrest. The decision came as millions prepared to visit Iraq for an annual pilgrimage to Shiite sites.
Dubai’s long-haul carrier Emirates stopped flights to Baghdad on Tuesday. The carrier said that it was “monitoring the situation closely.” It did not say when flights would resume.
Iraq’s top Shiite cleric called on protesters to leave the streets on Sunday, following a night of clashes between demonstrators and security forces that left at least four people dead.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s statement came as Iraq’s government announced a curfew in the capital, Baghdad, and other cities amid the ongoing unrest.
The clashes broke out late Saturday after security forces used water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters who were trying to reach the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign embassies.
At least 250 people have been killed and more than 10,000 wounded since the anti-government protests erupted in early October.