Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr announced he would withdraws from politics, prompting hundreds of protesters to storm the Republican Palace and sparking clashes with security forces in which 12 people were killed.

Iraqi security forces fired to disperse pro-Sadr protesters from the vicinity of the Republican Palace, where the government is seated.
Iraqi security forces fired to disperse pro-Sadr protesters from the vicinity of the Republican Palace, where the government is seated. (AA)

At least twelve supporters of Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr have been killed and 85 others wounded after clashes broke out in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, medics say.

The announcement raises an earlier toll of two protesters killed and 22 others wounded in Monday's clashes with supporters of the country's rival faction. 

Iraqi security forces fired to disperse pro-Sadr protesters from the vicinity of the Republican Palace, where the government is seated in the International Baghdad District, according to local media.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command declared a nationwide curfew, which will come into effect at 1600 GMT (7:00 pm local time) until further notice, the command said.

The command had earlier imposed curfew in the capital Baghdad at 1230 GMT (3:30pm local time).

The protests came hours after al Sadr announced his total withdrawal from politics amid a months-long political crisis in the country.

For his part, Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi suspended Cabinet sessions until further notice, the state news agency INA reported citing a government statement.

READ MORE: Iraq's cleric Muqtada al Sadr quits politics

Political deadlock

Protests also broke out in the Shia-majority southern provinces with al Sadr’s supporters burning tires and blocking roads in the oil-rich province of Basra and hundreds demonstrating outside the governorate building in Missan.

The United States said on Monday that unrest in Iraq was "disturbing" and called for "dialogue" to ease the country's political problems.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that Washington sees no need to evacuate staff in its Iraqi embassy at this time. 

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 Shia rivals and subsequent exit from the talks has catapulted the country into political uncertainty and volatility amid intensifying intra-Shia disputes.

Al Sadr has called for the dissolution of parliament and early elections without the participation of Iran-backed groups, which he sees as responsible for the status quo.

READ MORE: Iraq’s top judicial body suspends activities as Sadr supporters protest

Source: TRTWorld and agencies