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After a night of violence that left at least 30 people dead and nearly 300 wounded, calm has returned to Baghdad for the time being after Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on his supporters to withdraw from Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone.
In a televised speech, al-Sadr gave his supporters an hour to leave the region, and minutes later some started complying and could be seen abandoning their positions. Al-Sadr warned his supporters that he would “distance” himself from them if they failed to withdraw in the hour and apologized to the Iranian people for the chaos.
“I apologize to the Iraqi people, the only ones affected by the events,” al-Sadr told reporters from his base in the central Iraqi city of Najaf on Tuesday.
Fighting broke out in and around the Green Zone after hundreds of al-Sadr loyalists tore down cement barriers and charged through the Republican Palace after the cleric’s announced earlier on Monday that he would withdraw from politics. Military forces fought with al-Sadr’s supporters, with the police responding with tear gas and physical fights with protesters. The cleric’s decision to quit politics came in the wake of a political crisis that has left the country without a new government, prime minister or president for months.
The latest developments in Baghdad have been met with mixed reactions by a cross-section of observers. International Crisis Group’s Iraq analyst Lahib Higel says Sadr “clearly wants to show his rivals that he has control over his crowd” by ordering them into the streets and calling them back when things escalate too far. Sadr’s statement was also “indicative in commanding the security forces to show restraint towards the protesters and make sure not to spill any Iraqi blood to the extent possible,” Higel told Al Jazeera.
The situation in Iraq, which pumped nearly 4.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil in July, has exacerbated oil supply fears in an already tight market and helped push prices higher. However, the latest ceasefire suggests that the country’s oil will continue reaching global markets unhindered--at least for now.
By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com
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Alex Kimani is a veteran finance writer, investor, engineer and researcher for Safehaven.com.