Iraq's Sadr orders protests to end after 22 dead

STORY: Iraq’s powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered his followers to end protests in central Baghdad and apologized after 22 people were killed and hundreds more injured.

It was the worst fighting Baghdad has seen in years, pitting Sadr's followers against armed groups loyal to Iran.

Offering an ultimatum, al-Sadr also demanded protesters leave the fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad - home to embassies and government buildings.

The protests have occupied parliament there for weeks.

"I still believe that my supporters are disciplined and obedient. And if in the next 60 minutes they do not withdraw, as well as from parliament, then I will abandon these supporters."

He also said, "the spilling of Iraqi blood is forbidden." Following the announcement, supporters began leaving central Baghdad.

Gathered on vehicles, holding rifles and chanting while driving away.

Fighting initially broke out on Monday (August 29), hours after al-Sadr, announced he was quitting politics.

He is one of the strongest political figures in the country, commanding a thousands strong militia that fought the United States.

The unrest prompted Iran to close its border and halt flights to Iraq.

It also comes after months of political deadlock caused by October’s early and inconclusive elections in which Iraq has been left without a working government.

According to the the state news agency, following al-Sadr’s announcement, Iraqi security forces responded by lifting a nation-wide curfew.