BAGHDAD — The Iraqi prime minister ordered the army on Monday to withdraw from Sadr City, the military said, putting the police back in charge of security in a Baghdad neighborhood where dozens of people were killed or wounded at protests over the weekend.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi made the move after a week of violence that gripped Iraq left more than 100 dead and thousands wounded.
The unrest is the most serious challenge facing Iraq, two years after a victory against Islamic State militants. The chaos also comes at a critical time for the government, which has been caught in the middle of increasing tensions between the United States and Iran. Iraq is allied with both countries and hosts thousands of American troops, as well as powerful paramilitary forces allied with Iran.
Monday’s order appears aimed at calming tensions in Sadr City, a sprawling and heavily populated Shiite neighborhood where the populist cleric Moktada al-Sadr enjoys wide support.
The army statement said excessive force was used in Sadr City, adding that officers and soldiers who “carried out these wrong acts” would be held accountable.
Hundreds gathered on side streets near Sadr City, some 2.5 miles from Tahrir Square in central Baghdad, which has been the destination point of the weeklong rallies — though the authorities prevented protesters from reaching it.
Iraqi security officials said on Monday that at least 14 protesters were killed and 62 wounded the previous day, many of them in Sadr City.
Baghdad streets were relatively quiet on Monday, with no protesters seen outside. Tahrir Square looked more like an army barracks, with a heavy military and police presence making it difficult for protesters to reach the area.
Iraq’s most senior Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has urged the protesters and the security forces to end the violence, while the prime minister has called on the protesters to go home.
Iraq’s national security adviser, Falih Al-Fayadh, said on Monday that the government would fight attempts to “bring down the Iraqi state,” adding that an ongoing investigation would prove who was behind the violence in Baghdad and the predominantly Shiite southern provinces.
“We will not let anyone to meddle with the security of our people,” he said.
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