Hundreds of people in Iraq have stormed a government palace in Baghdad following the resignation of an influential Shia cleric.
Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Sadrist movement, announced on Monday that he would be standing down from his role and retiring from Iraqi politics despite winning the most votes in an election last year.
The decision sparked protests as his supporters took to the streets to show their support. Many headed straight towards the heavily policed Green Zone, the country’s seat of power.
According to the Iraqi military, at least 23 people have been killed in the unrest and clashes with security forces.
Protesters stormed the Republican Palace on Monday, where they jumped into the swimming pool and posed for pictures inside lavish marble rooms.
A nationwide curfew starting at 7PM has been implemented. Authorities have called for protesters to leave the Green Zone “to prevent clashes or the spilling of Iraqi blood”. Iran has closed its land border with Iraq, while Kuwait has advised its citizens not to travel to the country amid the unrest.
Despite Sadr’s bloc winning the biggest number of seats in the country’s most recent elections, he did not win an overall majority and was also unable to form a government with the second-biggest bloc. Iraq has had no government since the October vote, causing deep frustration.
Sadr said he is stepping down over frustration at the country’s inability to reform its political system.
António Guterres, the UN secretary general, has appealed for “calm and restraint, and urges all relevant actors to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation and avoid any violence.”
Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, has also calmed for calm while promising to lead an investigation into the military’s use of deadly force in confronting protesters.
Authorities are believed to have used tear gas and live ammunition as they attempted to clear the Green Zone.