BAGHDAD (AP) — Scores of people were injured, mostly members of Iraqi security forces, when supporters of pro-Iran Shiite militias who had camped outside Baghdad’s Green Zone scuffled with anti-riot police on Friday, the health ministry said.
The protesters reject the results of last month parliamentary elections that saw the militias as the biggest losers. The injuries in Friday’s scuffles were mostly from smoke inhalation and rock throwing.
About 300 protesters marched, apparently trying to storm the heavily protected Green Zone, and used rocks to pelt the security forces. The anti-riot police responded with batons, tear gas and water cannons to push them back.
The health ministry said 27 out of 125 injured were civilians, the rest were members of the security forces.
Following the vote, militia supporters had pitched tents near the Green Zone in an ongoing sit-in, rejecting election results and threatening violence unless their demands were met.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered an investigation into Friday’s violence.
The United States, the U.N. Security Council and others have praised the Oct. 10 election, which was mostly violence-free and without major technical glitches.
But unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud have cast a shadow over the vote. The standoff with the militia supporters is also increasing tensions among rival Shiite factions that could reflect on the street and threaten Iraq’s newfound relative stability.
The election was held months ahead of schedule in response to mass protests in late 2019, which saw tens of thousands in Baghdad and predominantly Shiite southern provinces rally against endemic corruption, poor services and unemployment. They also protested against the heavy-handed interference of neighboring Iran in Iraq’s affairs through Iran-backed militias.
The militias lost popularity since the 2018 vote, when they made big election gains. Many hold them responsible for suppressing the 2019 protests, and for challenging the state’s authority.
The biggest gains were made by influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who won the largest number of parliament seats, 73 out of 329. While he maintains good relations with Iran, al-Sadr publicly opposes external interference in Iraq’s affairs.
The protests appear to be aimed at pressuring al-Sadr to ensure that Iran-aligned factions are part of the next Cabinet. As the winner, al-Sadr’s bloc will seek coalition partners and name the prime minister.
On Friday, al-Sadr warned in a statement against protests turning violent and appealed on pro-Iran militias not to “smear their reputation.”