Hundreds of supporters of pro-Iran groups clashed with security forces in Baghdad on Friday, leaving more than 100 people injured as they vented their fury over last month's Iraq election result, medical and security sources said.
“There were 125 people injured, 27 of them civilians and the rest from the security forces,” Iraq's health ministry said.
The political arm of the pro-Iran Hashed Al Shaabi paramilitary network saw its share of parliamentary seats decline substantially in the election, which the group's supporters have denounced as “fraud".
Demonstrators from groups loyal to Hashed Al Shaabi threw projectiles and “blocked … access to the Green Zone” on three sides before they were pushed back by police, who fired weapons in the air, a security source said, requesting anonymity.
The health ministry said nobody was killed in the clashes but some pro-Iran channels on messaging app Telegram claimed police fired live rounds at protesters.
“Two demonstrators were killed,” a leader of the Hezbollah Brigades, one of Hashed Al Shaabi's most powerful factions, told AFP, requesting anonymity.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi “ordered a full inquiry into Friday's events”, his office said, while President Barham Salih called for restraint.
After a brief lull, clashes resumed in the evening near the Green Zone, a source from the Hezbollah Brigades said.
The source also accused security forces of torching protest tents pitched by Hashed Al Shaabi supporters in the area.
Discontent over elections festers
Iraq's final election results have yet to be confirmed, almost four weeks since the October 10 ballot.
Early indications showed populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr's bloc was likely to win 73 seats in the 329-member house. Mr Al Sadr has criticised foreign intervention in Iraq, including that of Iran.
The Conquest (Fatah) Alliance, the political arm of the multiparty Hashed Al Shaabi, won about 15, preliminary results showed.
In the last Parliament, it held 48 seats, making it the second-largest bloc.
The Taqadum party, led by Parliamentary Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi, took 37 seats, while former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki’s State of Law bloc won 35 seats.
As final results draw nearer, wrangling over government formation appears to have already begun. Mr Al Sadr was in Baghdad this week, holding meetings with Mr Al Halbousi, former prime minister Haider Al Abadi and cleric Ammar Al Hakim.
Mr Al Maliki said on Twitter that protesters, who were “claiming their legitimate rights”, should not escalate the violence and avoid provoking security forces.
“We strongly condemn the assault and the use of violence and excessive force by any party and we warn against the interference of malicious hands and suspicious parties in order to ignite sedition,” he said.
So far, unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud are casting a shadow over an election that was praised by the US, the UN Security Council and others for being the smoothest in years and without major technical glitches.
Once the appeals are dealt with by the Judicial Commission, the results will be sent to the High Federal Court for ratification, and then Mr Salih will have 15 days to call for the new Parliament to convene.
It remains unclear when the final election results will be announced.
This week, the same area of Baghdad was hit by three rockets, which struck an area near a Red Crescent hospital, a bank and the district's water management department. No casualties were reported.
The so far unclaimed attack was the first to hit the Green Zone since two rockets were fired into the area on July 29.