U.S. calls for peace in Baghdad, says embassy not under threat

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Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the Sadrist movement, storm the Republican Palace that houses the office of the prime minister, in Baghdad, on Monday. Photo by Ahmed Jalil/EPA-EFE

Aug. 29 (UPI) — U.S. officials are calling for peace and dialogue amid reports of “disturbing” violence in Baghdad’s Green Zone on Monday after Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced his withdrawal from political life.

“Reports of unrest throughout Iraq today are disturbing as Iraqi institutions are not being allowed to operate,” a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said Monday. “The United States is concerned about escalating tensions and urges all parties to remain peaceful and refrain from acts that could lead to a cycle of violence.”

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is not being evacuated and said reports that the embassy is under threat are false.

“There’s no evacuation going on at the embassy and no indication that’s going to be required at this time,” Kirby said, according to The Hill.

At least three people have been killed and dozen injured in the violence, CNN reported, adding that witnesses said security forces used tear gas and bullets to push protesters out of Iraq’s Republican Palace after hundreds stormed the building.

“Iraq’s security, stability and sovereignty should not be put at risk,” the U.S. Embassy statement said. “Now is the time for dialogue to resolve differences, not through confrontation.

“The right to peaceful public protest is a fundamental element of all democracies, but demonstrators must also respect the institutions and property of the Iraqi government, which belong to and serve the Iraqi people and should be allowed to function.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi directed the cabinet to suspend meetings until further notice, Iraqi News Agency reported.

Al-Kadhimi called on demonstrators to withdraw from the Green Zone and directed security leaders to comply with instructions regarding protecting the lives of demonstrators and preserving public and private property, his media office posted on Twitter.

A 3 p.m. curfew was established in Baghdad and 7 p.m. in the rest of the country.

In June, al-Sadr directed his political bloc to withdraw from the Iraqi parliament after months of political stalemate over forming a new Iraqi government after October’s parliamentary elections. The move sparked weeks of protests. Al-Sadr announced his final retirement Monday.

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