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Tension arise between Shia and Iraqi Govt

13 February, 2017

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BAGHDAD: Tension between Iraq's Shia leaders mounted on Sunday as the toll from protests in central Baghdad on Saturday increased to six killed, five demonstrators loyal to the fiery cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and one policeman.

At least 174 other protesters were injured in clashes that pitted police and Sadr's followers, who had gathered to demand an overhaul of a commission that supervises elections, ahead of a provincial poll due in September.

The clashes broke out as the protesters attempted to cross the bridge that links Tahrir Square where they had gathered and the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings, embassies and international organisations.

In a statement reacting to the killing of his followers on Saturday evening, Sadr said: "Their blood won't have been shed in vain." He promised "peaceful" retaliation.

Several Katyusha rockets hit the Green Zone on Saturday evening but there were no casualties, a military spokesman said.

Sadr's military wing, the Peace Brigades, denied in a statement firing the rockets, reacting to the military spokesman, who said they seem to have been fired from Baladiyat, a district where the cleric has many followers.

The growing tensions come at a bad time for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is trying to focus on a critical battle with Islamic State in Mosul, the last major urban stronghold of the Sunni militants in northern Iraq.

Four of the five protesters killed were hit by bullets and the fifth died of unknown causes, according to an update by an Interior Ministry's official. Most of the injured were treated for choking on tear gas, he said.

Sadr says the electoral commission is favourable to his rival, former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, a politician close to Iran whom he accuses of corruption. He also blamed Maliki for the failure of the Iraqi army to contain the advance of Islamic State in 2014 as he was the then prime minister.

The cleric said his supporters wanted to get near the Green Zone to make their voices heard by decision-makers, and had no intention of storming it again. agencies.

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