(CNN) – Powerful Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced on Monday that he was withdrawing from political life, triggering a new wave of protests inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.
Hundreds of protesters were attempting to storm the Iraqi presidential palace inside the Green Zone following the announcement, security officials told CNN.
Al-Sadr said he made a decision two months ago “not to interfere in political affairs,” but he was now announcing his “final retirement” from politics and shutting down all his political offices across the country, according to a statement released by his office on Monday.
The announcement came after weeks of tensions and protests that were sparked by al-Sadr’s decision in June to order his entire political bloc to withdraw from the Iraqi parliament in an apparent show of force after months of political stalemate.
At that time, he said his request was “a sacrifice from me for the country and the people to rid them of the unknown destiny.”
Iraq has struggled to form a new government since parliamentary elections in October which saw Iran-backed Shia blocs losing seats to the Sadrists.
Al-Sadr, who has in the past positioned himself against both Iran and the United States, is popular in Iraq. However, his attempts to form a government have foundered in the months following the election amid opposition from rival blocs.
Finally in July, the Coordination Framework, the largest Shia alliance in the Iraqi parliament, nominated Mohammed Shiya al-Sudani to lead the country — sparking a wave of protests by those loyal to al-Sadr.
Iraqi security forces on Monday called on thousands of protesters to withdraw immediately from inside the Green Zone. In a statement, the Iraqi military said they have been practicing “the highest levels of self-restraint and brotherly behavior to prevent clashes or the spilling of Iraqi blood.”
“The security forces affirm their responsibility to protect government institutions, international missions, and public and private properties,” the statement said, adding: “Dealing with peaceful demonstrations is done through the constitution and laws, and the security forces will do their duty to protect security and stability.”