BAGHDAD / AP
An Iraqi policeman was killed during anti-government protests in the Iraqi capital on Saturday, according to police and hospital officials who said seven other policemen were injured along with dozens of protesters.
Demonstrators loyal to influential Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gathered in Baghdad demanding that the commission overseeing the local elections schedule this year be overhauled.
Shots rang out in central Baghdad as security forces used live fire and tear gas to disperse the crowds. An Associated Press team at the scene witnessed ambulances rushing away protesters suffering from breathing difficulties.
Hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not allowed to brief journalists said the policeman died of a gunshot wound.
While at times the crowds advanced toward Baghdad’s highly fortified Green Zone, by afternoon they began to disperse after a statement from al-Sadr’s office called on his followers to refrain from trying to enter the compound.
Al-Sadr accused the elections commission of being corrupt and called for the commission’s members to be changed, according to a statement from his office.
“We will not give in to threats,” said the head of the electoral commission, Serbat Mustafa, in an interview with a local Iraqi television channel Saturday afternoon. Mustafa said he would not offer his resignation and accused al-Sadr of using the commission as a political “scapegoat.”
Al-Sadr has been a vocal critic of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and last year protests that included many of his followers breached the highly fortified Green Zone twice.
Al-Abadi has said that he respects the rights of all Iraqis to peacefully demonstrate but called on the protesters on Saturday to obey the law and respect public and private property.
The Green Zone is home to most of Iraq’s foreign embassies and the seats of Iraq’s government.