Deadly clashes in Iraq as Sadr quits politics

STORY: Deadly clashes broke out in Baghdad on Monday - as supporters of Iraq’s Moqtada al-Sadr protested…

…hours after the powerful Shi’ite Muslim cleric announced he was quitting politics.

His loyalists charged the government headquarters in Baghdad’s secure Green Zone,

And skirmished in the streets with supporters of Tehran-backed groups.

At least 10 Iraqis were killed in the immediate aftermath, as gunfire echoed over the capital.

The army has ordered a curfew.

Sadr announced his withdrawal on Twitter, criticizing fellow Shi’ite leaders for failing to heed his calls for reform.

The flare-up followed a months-long political deadlock that has blocked the formation of a new cabinet.

Late on Monday state news outlets said Sadr would be on hunger strike until the violence ends.

His supporters said they were united against corruption.

“The leader, God bless him, delegated the issue to the people. We, the Iraqi people, including Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds are one hand against the corrupt. Our leader says he is not affiliated with a certain political group, he retreated twice from the alliance.”

It wouldn't be the first time Sadr has withdrawn and then returned to Iraqi politics - but he still retains widespread institutional control and still has a paramilitary group with thousands of members.

But the current impasse between Sadr and his Shi'ite rivals seems harder than before, giving Iraq its longest run without a government.

His Sadrist Bloc came first in an October election. But he withdrew his lawmakers from parliament in June after failing to form a government of his choosing - one where he threatened to exclude powerful Shi'ite rivals close to Iran.

His supporters then occupied parliament and halted the selection of a new president and prime minister.

On Monday they could be seen in the swimming pool of the Republican Palace, cheering and waving flags.