Salih: escalation plunges Iraq into abysmal mazes

Iraq’s outgoing President Barham Salih warned that the heightened political tension might plunge the country into “abysmal and perilous mazes”, urging everyone to show self-restraint and avoid escalation.

“The rights of peaceful demonstration and the freedom of expression are guaranteed by the constitution as long as law is respected and security is preserved. However, disrupting state institutions is a dangerous deed that jeopardizes the country and people’s interests,” Salih said in a statement on Monday.

“We urge the demonstrators to withdraw from the official institutions and allow the security forces to practice their duties in protecting security, order, and public properties,” he added.

Salih called on the Iraqi political forces to “got over their differences, hinder violence, avoid bloodshed, pursue caution, and preserve the constitutional, democratic, and peaceful pathways our people made huge sacrifices for,” he concluded.

Earlier today, al-Sadr said he was quitting politics and closing his institutions in response to an intractable political deadlock, sparking protests by his followers and raising fears of more instability.

Al-Sadr’s supporters, who have been staging a weeks-long sit-in in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, a sprawling area of ministries and foreign missions, stormed the main cabinet headquarters and demonstrated inside after his announcement.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command (JOC) declared a curfew from 3:30 p.m. (Iraq time) and urged the protesters to leave the Green Zone to avoid clashes.

During the stalemate over forming a new government, al-Sadr has galvanised his legions of backers, throwing into disarray Iraq’s effort to recover from decades of conflict and sanctions and its bid to tackle sectarian strife and rampant corruption.

Al-Sadr withdrew all his lawmakers from parliament in June after he failed to form a government that excluded his rivals.

Al-Sadr has insisted on early elections and the dissolution of parliament. He says no politician who has been in power since the U.S. invasion in 2003 can hold office.

“I hereby announce my final withdrawal,” al-Sadr said in a statement posted on Twitter.

He did not elaborate on the closure of his offices but said that cultural and religious institutions would remain open.

Al-Sadr has withdrawn from politics or government in the past and also disbanded militias loyal to him. But he retains widespread influence over state institutions and controls a paramilitary group with thousands of members.

He has often returned to political activity after similar announcements, although the current political deadlock in Iraq appears harder to resolve than in previous periods of dysfunction.

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