BAGHDAD (Reuters) -Iraqi militants fired several rockets at Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone on Tuesday as sporadic clashes continued for a second day between rival Shi’ite Muslim groups, Iraq’s military said.

Streets were mostly empty of ordinary people as gunmen cruised in pickup trucks carrying machine guns and brandishing grenade launchers. Overnight, sustained gun and rocket fire rang out across the Iraqi capital.

Clashes on Monday, which killed nearly 20 people, jolted Iraq into new violence as supporters of Shi’ite the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a former anti-U.S. insurgent leader, faced off with Shi’ite armed groups mostly loyal to Iran.

A prolonged political deadlock after an October election, during which the two camps have competed for power, has given the country its longest run without a government and led to new unrest as Iraq struggles to recover from decades of conflict.

This time, the fighting is among the Shi’ite majority that has ruled Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion which toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.

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Sadr has positioned himself as a nationalist who opposes all foreign interference, whether from the United States and the West or from Iran. He commands a thousands-strong militia and has millions of loyal supporters across the country. His opponents, longtime allies of Tehran, control dozens of paramilitary groups heavily armed and trained by Iranian forces.

Sadr and his opponents have long dominated state institutions and run large parts of the Iraqi state.

(Reporting by John Davison, Moataz Mohamed; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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