Baghdad – Thousands had gathered in the Tahrir Square of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, to demand an overhaul of the commission that supervises elections ahead of a provincial vote due in September.
The protest started peacefully and several speakers addressed the large crowd in Tahrir Square before some demonstrators broke away and attempted to break through a security cordon guarding the main road to the Green Zone.
The office of the prime minister, Iraqi parliament, the IHEC, and the embassy of the United States, among others, are all located in Green Zone.
Protests are part of Sadrist Movement’s, led by Moqtada Sadr, attempt to reformulate the electoral commission to give way for new faces during the 2018 elections.
Sadr has been demanding deep political reform since last year, arguing that the current rules were tailored for Iraq’s leading parties, which he accuses of corruption and nepotism.
Suspects rose concerning the kind of work the commission will be executing, especially that Sadr believes that its members are loyal to his opponent former PM Nouri al-Maliki, one of Iran’s closest allies in Iraq.
In a statement announced by journalist Ahmed Abdel Hussein, Sadr told his supporters that if they wanted to get near the Green Zone to make their voices heard by decision makers, they can do that. But, he asked the protesters to “withdraw until further notice”.
Police then, tried to disperse them as they attempted to cross the bridge that links the square and the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings, embassies and international organizations.
The clashes resulted in casualties and injuries with at least one police officer killed and seven injured, a spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry has confirmed, Reuters reported.
Sadr eventually issued another statement and called for a “tactical withdrawal” to protect civilians, accusing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi personally of being responsible for what he called “excessive force” on the part of security forces.
“The next time the blood of our martyrs will not go in vain,” the statement read.
“Several Katyusha rockets fired from the Baladiyat and Palestine Street areas landed in the Green Zone,” Iraqi Joint Operations Command said in a statement.
The Joint Command said that a member of the security forces was killed, and seven others injured claiming that they seized light weapons and knives that had been held by the protesters.
Actual number of the injured and dead persons varied, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi said in a statement issued Saturday, reacting to casualties among protesters, insisting that Iraqis had the “right to protest peacefully.” He also called for the setting up of a commission to investigate what happened.
A statement from his office said that Abadi issued an order to open “a full investigation into the casualties that occurred among security units and the demonstrators from the demonstration in Tahrir Square, and to prosecute those responsible for it.”
Iraq’s President Fouad Masum quickly announced on Saturday that the completion of a draft regarding the election law, a key demand of the protesters, in consultations with various parliamentary factions, and hoped that the MPs would pass it soon.