At least 12 protesters in Baghdad were shot and killed by government security forces on Monday after they breached concrete barriers around the Green Zone area, Iraqi officials told The New York Times.
The demonstrators were among the hundreds of supporters of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who took to the streets after he announced on Twitter his retirement from politics. The Green Zone is home to the Iraqi Parliament, government offices, the U.S. Embassy, and other diplomatic missions.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said security forces are not allowed to use live fire, and he is launching an investigation into the shootings. A curfew is now in effect in Baghdad and security forces have closed down roads south of the capital. Iran said it is closing all land borders with Iraq and is warning citizens against traveling to the country.
Although candidates aligned with al-Sadr won the largest block of seats in parliament during elections last October, they weren't able to form a government. Iraq's caretaker government has failed to address economic issues, and supporters of al-Sadr and other Shiite groups backed by Iran have been holding sit-ins and protests in the Green Zone, with some storming parliament in July.
Al-Sadr is the most powerful Shiite religious figure involved in Iraqi politics, and his militia fought U.S. troops during the Iraq War. Hassan al-Adhari, a senior aide to al-Sadr, told the Times the cleric intends to go on a hunger strike until "the violence and use of weapons stops." This is not the first time al-Sadr has said he is retiring from politics, and this could be "a way of giving breathing space to all sides," Sajad Jiyad, a fellow at the Century Foundation think tank, told the Times.