Highlights

  • Heavy gunfire in Iraq's Green Zone amid violent protests
  • Iraq's military said four rockets were launched into the heavily fortified Green Zone
  • Al-Sadr's sudden resignation has catapulted Iraq into violence and chaos

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Heavy gunfire in Iraq's Green Zone as violent protests continue

The death toll rose to 22 Iraqis on Tuesday after the unrest erupted the previous day, according to two medical officials.

Supporters of a prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric fired rocket-propelled grenades into Iraq's Green Zone as machine gun fire crackled overhead on Tuesday, deepening the political chaos gripping the Mideast nation.

Those backing influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr fired into the Green Zone, where it appeared Iraqi security forces were firing back at them.

Live television footage showed the chaos, with at least one wounded man being taken away in a three-wheel rickshaw, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry visible behind them.

The death toll rose to 22 Iraqis on Tuesday after the unrest erupted the previous day, according to two medical officials.

Iraq's military said four rockets were launched into the heavily fortified Green Zone.

Al-Sadr's sudden resignation has catapulted Iraq into violence and chaos with no clear path out.

The cleric derives power from his ability to mobilise and control his large grassroots following, but with his stated exit from politics, he has implicitly given them the freedom to act as they see fit.

To avenge the killing of unarmed loyalists, al-Sadr's militia Saraya Salam clashed with Iraqi security forces in the Green Zone using an array of weapons, including mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, two security officials said.

The militia also took over some headquarters belonging to rival Iran-backed militia groups in the southern provinces overnight.

Iranian state television cited “unrests” and “curfew” in Iraqi cities for the reason for the border closures. It urged Iranians avoid any travel to Iraq while urging Iran's Shiite pilgrims in Iraq to avoid further travel between cities.

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.

His refusal to negotiate with his Iran-backed Shiite rivals and subsequent exit from the talks has catapulted the country into political uncertainty and volatility amid intensifying intra-Shiite wrangling.

To further his political interests, al-Sadr has wrapped his rhetoric with a nationalist and reform agenda that resonates powerfully among his broad grassroots base of supporters.

They are calling for the dissolution of parliament and early elections without the participation of Iran-backed Shiite groups, which they see as responsible for the status quo.

The decision came as millions of Iranians were preparing to visit Iraq for annual pilgrimage to Shiite sites.

Also Watch| 20 dead as protests erupt in Iraq after influential cleric quits politics

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