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Sadr supporters hold fresh demo in Iraqi capital

Supporters of prominent Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr protest in Tahrir square, Baghdad, Iraq, February 14, 2017.

Supporters of influential Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have one again taken to the streets of the capital, Baghdad, a few days after a similar demonstration turned violent and left dozens of casualties.

Iraq's al-Sumariah television network reported that Tuesday’s rally was held in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, with the participants demanding the resignation of a commission that oversees elections, ahead of a provincial poll due in September.

The protest led to the closure of government offices and many pathways in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses embassies, international organizations and government buildings.

Demonstrators further held a symbolic funeral ceremony for those who lost their lives in Saturday’s clashes between police and Sadr supporters in central Baghdad.

Supporters of prominent Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr hold national flags during a demonstration in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, February 11, 2017 to demand the formation of an independent electoral commission. (Photo by AFP)

The scuffles erupted as the protesters attempted to cross a bridge linking Tahrir Square to the Green Zone.

Sadr said his followers wanted to get close to the Green Zone to make their voices heard by Iraqi decision-makers.

Different sources provided conflicting casualty figures.

An unidentified Iraqi Interior Ministry official said six people, including five demonstrators and one policeman, were killed while at least 174 other protesters were injured in Saturday’s violence.

However, an unnamed police colonel told AFP that seven people lost their lives, among them two security forces. He further put the number of people wounded in the chaos at over 200.

Protesters run from teargas fired by security forces, during a demonstration by followers of prominent Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, February 11, 2017. (Photo by AP)

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Sadr has accused the Iraqi elections commission, which is said to favor former premier Nuri al-Maliki, of corruption. 

In a statement, Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party implicitly accused the cleric of trying to "distract the Iraqi people in sedition in order to prevent the efforts to get rid of Daesh” terrorists.

Sadr's supporters held a string of mass rallies last year to pressure Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to fulfill his promise of cabinet reshuffle.

The protests were halted largely due to the Mosul liberation operation, which was launched by the Iraqi army soldiers and allied fighters in October last year. However, they were resumed recently following the Iraqi government’s announcement of provincial elections.

Probe launched into Baghdad violence: Abadi

In a relevant development on Tuesday, Abadi said that an investigation had been launched into the firing of rockets at Baghdad's Green Zone during Saturday’s clashes.

He further said that some Iraqi youths had been incited to engage in clashes with the security forces.

Abadi also warned of the threat of internal conflicts in Iraq and underlined the need to focus on the main objective of countering terrorism.

The government is not against peaceful protests, but there are some groups that are seeking to take advantage of such events, he added.

Clashes with security forces will adversely affect the Iraqi forces’ fight against terrorism, the premier pointed out.

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