WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — The White House called for calm on Monday amid reports of violent clashes with security forces in Iraq which left at least 15 protesters killed, but said there are currently no plans to evacuate the U.S. embassy.
The protests began after Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential Shiite cleric, announced Monday he would resign from Iraqi politics. The news prompted hundreds of his angry supporters to storm the government palace. Ensuing clashes with security forces left at least five protesters dead, according to The Associated Press.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson told NewsNation that reports circulating of plans to evacuate the U.S. in Iraq are false but “ensuring the safety of U.S. government personnel, U.S. citizens, and the security of our facilities remains our highest priority.”
Iraq’s military announced a nationwide curfew and the caretaker premier suspended Cabinet sessions in response to the violence. Medical officials said at least 15 protesters were wounded by gunfire, and a dozen more were injured by tear gas and physical altercations with riot police.
Iraq’s government has been deadlocked since al-Sadr’s party won the largest share of seats in October parliamentary elections, but not enough to secure a majority government. His refusal to negotiate with his Iran-backed Shiite rivals and subsequent exit from the talks has catapulted the country into political uncertainty and volatility amid intensifying intra-Shiite wrangling.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.