A day after the Iraqi Shia religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr told his supporters to leave their protest sites in Baghdad’s Green Zone, calm has returned to the Iraqi capital.
The violence that began on Monday evening and carried on into Tuesday morning claimed the lives of 30 people, and left 700 injured.
It began when al-Sadr himself announced what he called his “final withdrawal” from politics on Monday.
His supporters, known as the Sadrists, had been gathered for months at a sit-in in front of the parliament demanding its dissolution.
After al-Sadr’s announcement, they stormed the Republican Palace, where the government is based, and clashed with rival protesters who support the Iran-backed Coordination Framework Alliance.
By nightfall militias associated with both sides took to the streets, and the fighting began.
Many in Iraq blame both sides. “Families lived through a horrible few hours, kids were crying after they heard the weapons, the sick worried about their health,” Mohanad Baker, a Baghdadi resident, told Al Jazeera. “Who are the winners? No one, we are all losers.”
The Sadrists have been accused by their opponents of being the instigators of the violence, and of preventing the formation of a new government, almost a year on from last October’s elections.
But the al-Sadr supporters Al Jazeera spoke to said they want the country to reform, and will continue to back al-Sadr.
Here’s what they had to say:
Haider Hadi, 23 – ‘We are demanding radical change’
“We entered the parliament building inside the Green Zone, we delivered our demands, and they’re clear: modifying the constitution, dissolving the parliament, and going for early elections.
Just as we pour onto the streets when Muqtada al-Sadr orders us, we also go back home by his order. When our leader asks us to do something, we obey his word.
I feel that we did not get what we wanted, but al-Sadr’s decision to order the withdrawal of all the protesters from the Green Zone is right to stop the bleeding from continuing.
Getting a job in Iraq is like the American dream; only people who have a connection with the government can get an employment opportunity, while others, like me, have to wait years for that opportunity to come.
I went to the streets not only to get a job, no. Getting a job is like a drop in the ocean. We are demanding the wholesale radical change of the corrupt politicians, and replace it with a government who work for the people, not for themselves.”
Mohammed al-Eli, 41 – ‘We can’t talk with militias loyal to Iran’
“From 2003 until today, Iraqis have never lived in peace, because the successive governments have not been qualified to run the country, and they continue to fail to form a new government that will meet the people’s needs.
Our leader, al-Sadr, resigned from politics, which means Iraq will continue without a government. I hope al-Sadr returns to politics after the parliament is dissolved and comes back strongly in the next elections.
Dozens of people were killed in Baghdad, who is responsible for what happened?
Dialogue is now the only way to solve our problems, but al-Sadr says that we cannot sit and talk with militias who are loyal to Iran, and not to Iraq. These militias are supported from outside Iraq, but are somehow involved in the political process inside Iraq.
After a couple of bloody days, life has returned to normal, and nothing has changed in the government, hopefully, our demands – that early elections are held soon and some of the constitution’s articles be changed for the people’s benefit – are met soon.”
Hassan Mohamadawi, 29 – ‘People are deprived of all that’s good’
“I wish I could leave the country and seek a better life outside Iraq.
What kind of life are we living where we cannot get even our minor rights? Youths have no job opportunities, people have been left without good health services, with bad infrastructure, and armed groups still own all kinds of weapons. People are deprived of all that is good.
I went to Baghdad from Basra to join the protests inside the Green Zone and stayed for weeks demanding things change, while al-Sadr’s rivals [the Coordination Framework Alliance] have insisted on running the country in the way they want.
I am against anyone who carries weapons and fights, al-Sadr called for peaceful protests, but when dozens were killed and injured, al-Sadr took the decision to end the protests and send them home.
It is true that things deescalated after al-Sadr’s press conference [where he told his supporters to go home] but we do not know what will now happen.
I would like to say frankly, all of Iraq’s problems are caused by pro-Iran politicians, they were living in Iran, and then after 2003 they came to Iraq to work for Iran.”