Iraq rapidly slides into political and security chaos as Sadr 'retires'
Thousands of supporters of powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr storm Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone after their leader today announced an unexpected "retirement" from politics.

Iraq is on the cusp of a dangerous escalation as supporters of powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr storm the presidential mansion and government headquarters located in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone following Sadr's abrupt "retirement" from politics on Monday afternoon.
Iraq held its first-ever early election on 10 October 2021, in which Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc won a majority with 73 seats. Yet, after ten months, different Iraqi factions have yet to agree on appointing a president or forming a government capable of making reforms.
Sadr in a tweet on Monday announced his "final retirement" from politics. He also decided to close "all the institutions" linked to his Sadrist movement, except the mausoleum of his father, who was assassinated in 1999, and other heritage sites.
Sadr's Shia rivals, organised under the Coordination Framework, include former paramilitaries of the Iran-backed Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi network and the party of former prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki, a longtime foe to Sadr.
Soon after Sadr's announcement, thousands of Sadr supporters stormed a presidential palace. 
The Iraqi Joint Operations Command announced a total lockdown in Baghdad, including civilians and vehicles, that comes into effect from 3:30 PM on Monday.
Iraqi caretaker prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi halted the sessions of the Iraqi Council of Ministers until further notice due to the protestors storming the government palace.
"The new step by Sadr is part of a plan to face his political rivals. The Sadrists have a long history of withdrawing from politics and returning to it. Sadr usually uses the tactic of withdrawal and return when he wants to step out from direct confrontations and work behind closed doors," Yassin Taha, a Kurdish political analyst on Iraqi political affairs, told The New Arab via a messaging application.
"Currently, the Sadrists are under big political pressures and have no choice within the Iraqi political process other than escalating the conditions and choosing confrontations, as they have previously withdrawn from the parliament," Taha said. 
Taha also clarified that for this stage, Sadr prefers not to be at the forefront of Iraqi politics in order not to be blamed for any confrontations with the Iraqi security forces or militias and Sadr could also claim that it is the Iraqi people who are protesting and he has no role in it. 
Hours before Sadr's decision, Grand Ayatollah Kadhim Husayni al-Haeri, a prominent Twelver Shia Marjaeya and one of the Sadr movement's supporters, announced his decision to resign from the Marjaeya authority of Najaf.  Al-Haeri indirectly criticised Sadr for creating division among the Iraqi people. He also called on his followers to obey the guidelines of the leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.
"Sadr's decision to quit politics is also related to the withdrawal of al-Haeri, who is a friend of Sadr's father and has a great effect on Sadr's followers. The decision by al-Haeri has created a big embarrassment for Sadr and his followers. Sadr has also slept out from this embarrassment. Now, the situation has become very complicated for Sadr’s rivals, as they can no longer treat Sadr as a political rival and should treat the unknown Iraqi crowds who are angrily protesting on the streets," Taha said.  
Iraq has been ravaged by decades of conflict and endemic corruption.
It is blighted by ailing infrastructure, power cuts and crumbling public services, and now also faces water shortages as drought ravages swathes of the country.
Despite its oil wealth, many Iraqis are mired in poverty, and some 35 per cent of young people are unemployed, according to the United Nations.
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