(Update 1: changes headline, re-leads, adds details throughout)
Baghdad, Aug 30 (EFE).- Iraq’s influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday ordered his followers to withdraw from Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone after deadly clashes left at least 35 dead and hundreds wounded.
Thousands of al-Sadr’s loyalists stormed the presidential palace in the Green Zone on Monday following his announcement that he is retiring from Iraqi politics, triggering violence.
“If they (followers) do not leave their sit-in within 60 minutes, I will disavow the (Sadrist) movement,” al-Sadr said during a six-minute speech in the southern Iraqi province of Najaf.
“I apologize to the people of Iraq,” he added. “What is happening in Iraq has saddened me.”
Shortly after al-Sadr’s speech, the Iraqi security forces announced the nationwide curfew declared on Monday had been lifted.
Iraq has been gripped by more than 10 months of political stalemate and the inability of parliament to form a new government or choose a president.
Al-Sadr’s bloc secured 73 seats in the 329-strong parliament in elections held in October.
But that was well short of a majority and gridlock ensued, with the Sadr supporters at loggerheads not only with Kurdish parties but also other Shiite groupings with close ties to Iran.
Amid the deadlock, all of the Sadr’s lawmakers resigned in June and since then the cleric has mobilized his supporters in the streets.
The leader enjoys strong support from the majority of the Shiite population in Iraq and was one of the main figures in the fight against the 2003 United States invasion.EFE