Four insurgents have been killed in retaliatory attacks between rival Shiite militia groups in southern Iraq, two security officials said on Thursday, after violent clashes in Baghdad left the country on the brink of street warfare.
Iraqi security forces quickly deployed to the southern oil city of Basra to contain overnight violence between an armed faction of powerful cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Asaib Ahl al-Haq paramilitary group led by a key ally backed by Iran.
Two militants from al-Sadr’s group, Saraya Salam, and two others from AAH were killed in the attacks, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press. Details of the attacks were not immediately clear and there were conflicting reports.
The incidents followed riots in the government area of the capital, Baghdad, between al-Sadr loyalists and security forces, which left at least 30 dead and more than 400 injured. The armed hostilities ended on Tuesday, when al-Sadr asked his supporters to withdraw.
The threat of more clashes is growing as the political rivalry between al-Sadr and his rivals from the bloc known as the Coordination Framework, which is backed by Tehran and includes AAH leader Qais al-Khazali, remains unresolved.
The two sides are at odds over the proper mechanism to dissolve parliament and hold early elections, which are al-Sadr’s main demands. His party won the 2021 general election but was unable to reach a legislative majority to form a government without his pro-Iranian Shiite rivals.
The United Nations Security Council condemned the recent violence, called for “calm and restraint” and urged the parties to peacefully resolve their differences and respect the rule of law and the right to peaceful assembly.
A Supreme Court session to decide whether the judiciary can dissolve parliament, as al-Sadr demands, has been pushed back to Wednesday. A negative failure is expected to cause the cleric’s reaction.
For now, tensions appear to have shifted from the capital to the majority Shiite provinces of the south, where government authority is less than firm. Saraya Salam and AAH have been carrying out retaliatory attacks for years. The clashes in Baghdad sparked the latest episode after al-Sadr’s militants attacked the AAH offices.
In response, AAH attacked al-Sadr militiamen, sparking a multi-battle overnight. Basra Governor Asad al-Eidani said Thursday morning that calm had been restored.