Iran shuts border with Iraq after 20 killed in violence over Sadr’s resignation

Closure comes as millions of Iranians were expected to visit Shiite sites in neighboring country as part of annual pilgrimage; Iran, Kuwait urge citizens to avoid travel to Iraq

Iraqi security forces fire tear gas on the followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr inside the government Palace, Baghdad, Iraq, Aug. 29, 2022 (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Iraqi security forces fire tear gas on the followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr inside the government Palace, Baghdad, Iraq, Aug. 29, 2022 (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

BAGHDAD — Iran closed its land borders to Iraq as flights to the country halted Tuesday amid violence in Baghdad following an influential Shiite cleric’s announcement he would resign from politics.

The death toll rose to 20 Iraqis on Tuesday after the unrest erupted the previous day, according to a senior medical official.

Iraq’s military said four rockets were launched into the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government where armed clashes raged overnight between a militia loyal to Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Iraqi security forces.

Iranian state television cited “unrests” and “curfew” in Iraqi cities as the reason for the border closures. It urged Iranians to avoid any travel to Iraq while urging Iran’s Shiite pilgrims in Iraq to avoid further travel between cities.

The decision came as millions of Iranians were preparing to visit Iraq for the annual pilgrimage to Shiite sites.

Kuwait meanwhile has urged its citizens in neighboring Iraq to leave the country.

Illustrative: Shiite Muslim pilgrims gather outside the Imam Hussein shrine on the last day of the Arbaeen religious festival on November 21, 2016, in the holy Iraqi city of Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad. (AFP/Mohammed SAWAF)

The state-run KUNA news agency also encouraged those hoping to travel to Iraq to delay their plans over the eruption of violent street clashes between rival Shiite groups in the country.

The tiny Gulf Arab sheikhdom of Kuwait shares a 254-kilometer (158 mile)-long border with Iraq.

Dubai’s long-haul carrier Emirates stopped flights to Baghdad on Tuesday over the ongoing unrest in Iraq. The carrier said that it was “monitoring the situation closely.”

It did not say whether flights would resume on Wednesday.

Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr demonstrate after his resignation, in the grounds of the Government Palace, Baghdad, Iraq, August 29, 2022. (AP/Hadi Mizban)

Protesters loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who resigned Monday, pulled down the cement barriers outside the government palace with ropes and breached the palace gates. Many rushed into the lavish salons and marbled halls of the palace, a key meeting place for Iraqi heads of state and foreign dignitaries.

Iraq’s military announced a nationwide curfew, and the caretaker premier suspended cabinet sessions in response to the violence. Medical officials said dozens of protesters were wounded by gunfire and tear gas and physical altercations with riot police.

Most Popular
read more: