At least seven people were killed in fierce clashes that erupted in central Baghdad on Saturday between security forces and protesters demanding reforms to Iraq’s electoral system, police said.
“The demonstrators tried to cross Jumhuriya bridge, the security forces fired tear gas to stop them but they insisted,” a senior police told AFP.
The violence was the deadliest to break out at a protest since a wave of demonstrations demanding better services and accusing Iraq’s political class of corruption and nepotism began in 2015.
Police fired tear gas and rubber-coated bullets at the crowd when some protesters, most of them supporters of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, tried to force a people chain and reach Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.
“There were seven dead as a result of the violence. Two of them are from the security forces and the other five are protesters,” a police colonel told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He said more than 200 were hurt in the chaos. Most were protesters suffering from tear gas inhalation, but at least 11 had more serious injuries caused by bullets and tear gas canisters.
Saturday’s demonstrators received a de facto green light to escalate their protest in the shape of a statement from the Najaf-based cleric, Sadr.
“If you want to approach the gates of the Green Zone to affirm your demands and make them heard to those on the other side of the fence… you can,” he said.
Sadr encouraged protesters to remain there until sunset but warned them against attempting to break into the fortified area.
The protesters met fierce resistance from the security forces and never made it across the Tigris River running between Tahrir Square and the Green Zone.