Washington has refuted claims that it evacuated its embassy in the chaos-plagued capital of Iraq.
Conflicts between security personnel and adherents of well-known Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Monday near Baghdad's Republican Palace resulted in two fatalities and 19 injuries, according to Sky News Arabia, which cited medical sources in Iraq. According to rumours, the US State Department's embassy had been evacuated.
According to the medical authorities, the deaths occurred "in the centre" of the guarded Green Zone, which is home to the US embassy and palace. Earlier, hundreds of demonstrators overran the palace and toppled concrete barriers. Following months of unsuccessful attempts to establish a government in the face of resistance from a rival, Iran-allied Shia groupings, al-Sadr announced his resignation from politics.
The news agency AFP claimed that gunshots could be heard reverberating over the Green Zone just before news of the casualties leaked. Videos were taken on location at the time show this firing.
As military reinforcements were hurriedly sent in to deal with the thousands of al-Sadr supporters rushing into the Green Zone in response to the palace breach, the Iraqi military imposed a curfew on the whole city. Security personnel and protesters engaged in ongoing combat while water cannons were used to disperse the crowd.
Al-friend Sadr were taken as interim prime minister of Iraq, and Mustafa al-Kadhimi urged the people to leave the area. Some of the protesters started to leave the Green Zone shortly after, according to Sky News Arabia, before attempting to reenter.
The Green Zone, which served as the nerve centre of the US occupation, is still home to several foreign embassies and international organisations, as well as the seat of several Iraqi administrations that came into power after the invasion.
Video footage showed a helicopter taking off from the roof of what looked to be the US embassy as the area descended into turmoil, evoking memories of the disorderly American pullout from Kabul in August. Several unsubstantiated reports said the embassy's staff was being evacuated, but the State Department notified Fox News that these rumours were "false."
The US diplomatic mission in Iraq said in a statement on Monday night that it is "concerned about increasing tensions and urges all parties to remain calm."
Al-political Sadr's coalition was unable to form a government after obtaining 73 seats in the 329-seat Iraqi legislature due to infighting with the Coordination Framework Alliance, a Shia bloc affiliated with Iran. Al-Sadr, an outspoken opponent of foreign meddling in Iraq, wanted to remove the Coordination Framework from a future administration, which prompted the latter to try to establish its own government.
To avoid this, Al-supporters Sadr's have occupied the Iraqi parliament since late July, and the cleric has demanded that the body be dissolved and new elections held.
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