In a breaking development from Iraq, supporters of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr stormed the Republican Palace after he announced his retirement from politics after months of deadlock with the government.
Shortly after al-Sadr quit politics, hundreds of his followers scaled the cement barriers and rushed to Iraq's Government Palace, the seat of governance. It is the first time that protestors have breached the Palace. Previously, they had stormed the Iraqi parliament to stop al-Sadr's rivals from forming a government.
Amid the security breach, United Nations (UN) officials are being evacuated from the Green Zone in Baghdad. Security has also been increased inside the Green Zone with Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) being brought in. A curfew has also been declared in the capital city.
The military has asked supporters of the cleric to immediately withdraw from the government zone and to practise self-restraint "to prevent clashes or the spilling of Iraqi blood."
"The security forces affirm their responsibility to protect government institutions, international missions, public and private properties," the military added.
In a statement, al-Sadr said that he is retiring from politics and ordering the closure of his party offices. His move was reportedly a reaction to Shiite spiritual leader Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri's retirement, who counts many of al-Sadr’s supporters as followers.
In the October elections, al-Sadr had won maximum seats but failed to form a majority government, leading to one of the worst political crises in Iraq. His MPs resigned later from parliament over the appointment of a new prime minister. Al-Sadr has pressed that parliament should be dissolved and early elections held.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has directed the cabinet to suspend the session until further notice amid protestors entering Government Palace.