At least eight people were killed in clashes in Iraq’s southern city of Najaf on Wednesday after supporters of populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr stormed an anti-government protest camp.
Medical sources said at least 20 were wounded in the violence.
Security sources said supporters of Mr Al Sadr, known as blue hats, tried to clear the area of anti-government protesters, who pushed back.
Fights broke out as the blue hats threw petrol bombs at protester tents and gunfire rang out shortly afterwards, wounding and killing eight people, they said.
Iraq’s designated Prime Minister Mohammed Allawi, who was given the task last week of forming a new government, condemned the violence and called on Twitter on the departing Cabinet to “protect protesters”.
Mr Al Sadr, who supported Mr Allawi’s candidacy in an agreement with Iran-backed parties that dominate Iraq’s government and state institutions, has at different times supported and abandoned Iraqi protesters, who demand the removal of the entire ruling elite.
The cleric says he opposes all foreign interference in Iraq but has aligned himself more closely with parties backed by Tehran in recent months.
Mr Al Sadr urged followers last week to help authorities bring “day-to-day life” back to Iraq’s streets by clearing roads blocked by sit-ins and ensuring businesses and schools can reopen.
There has been months of protests in which nearly 500 people have been killed in clashes between demonstrators and security forces.
Mr Al Sadr has also urged the blue hats to allow protests to continue.