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Rockets hit Baghdad Green Zone after deadly demonstration

Clashes have erupted in the Iraqi capital, leaving at least five dead, including a policeman, and hundreds injured. Protesters have been demanding an overhaul of the commission that oversees local elections.

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Protests turn violent in Baghdad

Violent clashes erupted between protesters and security forces in Baghdad on Saturday, leaving at least five people dead and hundreds injured.

Witnesses reported that security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse pro-reform demonstrators heading toward Baghdad's Green Zone, a heavily fortified area housing government officials and foreign embassies.

While there has been no official figure concerning the number of fatalities, the toll is believed to be between five and seven, with at least one security official among the dead.

Baghdad Governor Ali al-Tamimi has reportedly announced that some 320 people were injured in the clashes.

"The prime minister ordered a full investigation into the injuries among security forces and protesters during the demonstration today on Tahrir Square," said a statement from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's office.

Meanwhile, a senior police official said "the demonstrators tried to cross Jumhuriya bridge, the security forces fired tear gas to stop them but they insisted."

Mortar shells fired

At least two rockets were fired into the Green Zone later on Saturday after demonstrators had dispersed.

There are no immediate reports of injuries or casualties. The rockets reportedly landed in the empty parade grounds at the center of the compound.

It was not immediately clear who fired the shells.

Demands for electoral reform

Thousands of supporters of prominent Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had gathered in the capital's Tahir Square, demanding a complete overhaul of the electoral commission ahead of September's provincial elections. Sadr's supporters have accused the body supervising national ballots of being affiliated with political parties, therefore making it anything but independent.

Sadr has vowed to step up the political pressure ahead of September's vote. In a statement effectively sanctioning the demonstrations, Sadr wrote that "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." However, the cleric warned supporters against breaking into the compound.

The electoral commission said it had asked for protection from both the prime minister's office and international community in the wake of the growing unrest.

Protesters broke into the Green Zone twice in 2016, storming the prime minister's office and the parliament building.

The head of the electoral commission, Serbat Mustafa, hit back at Sadr in an interview with Iraqi television Saturday afternoon. Mustafa said he would not offer his resignation and accused the cleric of using the commission as a political "scapegoat."

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dm/jlw (AP, AFP, dpa)

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