Kabul: The violence erupted after the powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said he is leaving politics. Protesters supporting Mr. Sadr took to the streets of the capital, Baghdad, and security forces opened fire.
Mr. Sadr’s pronouncement on Twitter sent hundreds of his followers into the streets of Baghdad, where they breached concrete barriers guarding the so-called Green Zone, the site of Parliament, Iraqi government offices and diplomatic missions, including the U.S. Embassy.
At least 12 protesters were killed and more than 100 were injured when security forces fired on them, according to Iraqi officials.
Baghdad and most provinces were under curfew by Monday evening.
The Associated Press later reported that at least 15 protesters had been killed by gunfire, citing a senior medical official.
A senior aide to Mr. Sadr, Hassan al-Adhari, said late on Monday that the Shiite cleric was declaring that he would go on a hunger strike until “the violence and use of weapons stops.”
Although political turmoil and street protests are common in Iraq, Monday’s developments — with breaching of state institutions, along with political deadlock — could mark an even more dangerous phase.
Iraq has been run by a caretaker government since elections last October, that has not been able to address urgent economic problems, such as passing an annual budget, among other priorities.
Leaders in the Sadr movement, in a show of force in July, directed his followers to storm Parliament and then set up a tent camp that has blockaded the Parliament building for more than a month, preventing lawmakers from meeting.
On Monday, protesters for the first time during the recent unrest stormed the Republican Palace, Saddam Hussein’s former residence, which later served as the headquarters of the U.S.-led occupation and now hosts Iraqi cabinet meetings.
Some international organizations were conducting evacuation flights from the Green Zone by helicopter to Baghdad’s international airport.
Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for the secretary general of the United Nations has said of Mr. Guterres, adding that the U.N. leader was calling for “immediate steps to de-escalate the situation and avoid any violence.”