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Breaking: Multiple dead as violent clashes erupt in Iraq following al-Sadr announcement

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, one of the most powerful figures in Iraq, announced Monday he would resign from Iraqi politics. The announcement sparked hundreds of al-Sadr’s followers to take to the streets in protest. Protestors breached concrete barriers guarding the Green Zone — the site of Parliament, Iraqi government offices and diplomatic missions, including the U.S. Embassy.

The Associated Press reports that five people were killed in clashes with Iraqi security forces after protestors stormed the government palace. The New York Times states that an additional 20 protestors were injured by security forces.

A video posted to Twitter purports to show U.S. Embassy employees in Baghdad being evacuated by military helicopter for safety. The U.S. State Department has stated that the reports that the embassy has been evacuated are “false,” but otherwise refused to comment on the situation, saying, “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on matters involving internal security.”

u201cState Dept says reports the US evacuated its Embassy in Baghdad are false.nFrom a State Department Spokesperson: nu2022These reports are false. nu2022As a matter of policy, we do not comment on matters involving internal security.u201d

— Jennifer Griffin (@Jennifer Griffin)
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Because of the ongoing violence, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command has set a full curfew in Baghdad, state news agency INA reported on Monday. The AP reports that the curfew is nation-wide.

“The security forces affirm their responsibility to protect government institutions, international missions, public and private properties,” the Iraqi military said in a statement.

Muqtada al-Sadr, who opposed both U.S. and Iranian influence on Iraqi politics, won election in October but withdrew all his lawmakers from parliament in June after he failed to form a government that excluded his rivals, according to Reuters.

“I have decided not to interfere in political affairs so now I announce my final retirement,” al-Sadr wrote on Twitter, according to the New York Times.

The U.N. mission in Iraq said the protests were an “extremely dangerous escalation,” and called on demonstrators to vacate all government buildings, writes the AP.

This is an ongoing story and will be updated as events unfold.