Protesters breached Iraq’s presidential palace on Monday after an influential Shiite cleric announced his resignation from politics.
A video released on Monday appeared to show U.S. Embassy employees in Baghdad being evacuated by military helicopter.
John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, later denied that there was an evacuation of U.S. Embassy personnel, in contrast with earlier reports.
“There’s no evacuation going on at the embassy and no indication that’s going to be required at this time,” Kirby told reporters, according to The Hill. One senior official also told Fox News, “If we were conducting an evacuation, I would not be on the phone with you right now. Don’t know where those reports are coming from. There’s no change to our status at the Embassy.”
Concerns of unrest have grown recently, with the U.S. Embassy in Iraq releasing a statement last week urging calm among all parties.
“We are closely monitoring reports of unrest in Baghdad today at the Supreme Judicial Council,” the embassy said.
“We urge all parties to remain calm, abstain from violence, and resolve any political differences through a peaceful process guided by the Iraqi constitution. We also call for those demonstrating to respect the proceedings and property of Iraq’s governmental institutions which belong to and serve the Iraqi people,” it added.
The nation’s government has been in controversy since October when cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s party won the most seats in the election but failed to reach the number needed to form a majority government. The Shiite leader refused to negotiate with Iran-backed Shiites to create a consensus government.
Al-Sadr’s supporters staged a government sit-in over the past four weeks to stop rivals from forming an opposing coalition government. His party members have also announced their resignations, with al-Sadr joining in solidarity.
The leaders’ statement was in response to the retirement of the Shia spiritual leader Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri, who counts many of al-Sadr’s supporters as followers. On Sunday, al-Haeri announced he was stepping down and called on his followers to support Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei instead of the Shia spiritual center in Najaf, Iraq.
In response, several hundred protesters breached the concrete barriers outside the palace gates and stormed the building. Iraq’s military issued a curfew and has called on protesters to leave immediately.
Some protesters have decided to stay despite the warning, with video surfacing of intruders enjoying the palace swimming pool.
Outside of the palace, other protesters were recorded fleeing from gunfire in the background. The Jerusalem Post reported that the gunfire was believed to be from the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) firing to stop demonstrators.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has reportedly been evacuated as a safety precaution.
The chaos comes almost one year after U.S. military forces exited Afghanistan on August 31 after two decades of operations following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.
In addition to the unrest in Iraq, 21 people were killed and 33 were injured in a bombing in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul earlier this month.
As The Daily Wire previously reported, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the attacks, promising that “perpetrators of such crimes will soon be brought to justice and will be punished.” Despite the statement, the attack shows that the persistent violence that has plagued the country for decades may be far from over.
Reporting from The Daily Wire.