Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr drives a car as he joins anti-government demonstrations in Najaf on October 29, 2019. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took to Twitter on Wednesday to condemn civilian deaths in a recent rocket attack in Baghdad.
“Do not wage war against your people and nation, and do not bombard them and kill them for no reason,” Sadr wrote.
“Brothers, do not shift your gun barrel, which was pointed at our enemy, now at the chest of our brothers and people,” he said.
Three women and two children were killed on Monday after a Katyusha rocket hit a home near Baghdad International Airport.
Sadr’s tweet came moments after a roadside bomb hit a civilian vehicle at Baghdad International Airport according to the Iraqi Security Media Cell. No one was hurt.
The cleric warned on Monday that Iraq will plunge into “civil war”, or witness an internal Shiite conflict should “suspicious parties” continue attacks in the country.
Sadr has led the Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades) militia, part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic), since 2014 and has pushed for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.
“I am not of those people who is afraid of threats and menaces… but some foreign forces want revenge upon our Iraq and its security, integrity and sovereignty,” Sadr added.
The US has told Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi that it will close its Baghdad embassy and withdraw all troops if attacks on foreign actors continue.
“I was the first who opposed the existence of the American forces which are occupying Iraqi territory, and I am the son of the one who chanted in the grand mosque of Kufa ‘no, no to the USA’,” Sadr wrote.
Convoys driven by Iraqis and contracted by the US-led coalition have come under almost daily attacks in recent months at the hands of pro-Iranian Shiite militias. Baghdad airport is also frequently targeted, as it hosts a coalition base.
The US Embassy and Iraqi military bases hosting coalition troops have been repeatedly targeted since the US assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad in January.
It is believed that the Iran-backed Islamic Front for Resistance inside Iraq (al-Muqawama) is responsible for the attacks. Its aim is to force US troops to withdraw from the country and units of the group have claimed responsibility for similar attacks.
Diplomatic missions have also come under attack. A British diplomatic vehicle hit an IED in Baghdad earlier this month and a blast at an English-language institute in Najaf’s city centre on September 18 caused substantial material damage.
The attack on the British embassy vehicle was condemned by Sadr and the commander of Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah, Abu Ali al-Askari.
Diplomatic targets are more often hit by missiles within Baghdad’s Green Zone, home to foreign diplomatic offices and Iraqi government buildings. Two Katyusha rockets fired at the American embassy in mid-September were intercepted by a US air defense system. Three mortars landed in the area last week.
Kadhimi on Tuesday slammed armed groups who target diplomatic missions in Baghdad.
“There are ongoing mortar attacks to destabilize the situation, the latest was of which was an attack which resulted in the killing of five innocent civilians including a woman and children,” he said.
“The European Union’s mission in Iraq is also thinking of leaving, and this is because of insecurity in the Green Zone,” Kadhimi said, agreeing that continued threats to them make them unable to “continue work in Iraq.”
“They are not blaming the Iraqi government for that, but lack of security in Iraq,” he added.
“Closure of the embassies in Iraq means closing down the economic, cultural and military cooperation at a time that we are facing huge challenges,” the premier decried.
Numerous foreign missions met with Kadhimi on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing attacks.
“We underlined our support for Iraq and its people, our respect for Iraqi sovereignty and our desire to see a stable and secure Iraq” read an official statement, expressing “deep concern” at the rise “in the number and sophistication of attacks against diplomatic premises in Iraq.”