Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Multiple people were killed in clashes between Iraqi security forces and protesters during a large rally near the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters loyal to the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr flooded Tahrir Square on Saturday morning in what began as a peaceful gathering calling for electoral reforms ahead of provincial elections in September.
Protesters then moved toward the main road to the Green Zone, the closely guarded portion of the city established after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that is home to Iraqi government buildings and foreign embassies. As the protesters approached, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.
Protesters blamed police for escalating the violence, but government officials said an unnamed number of police officers were killed after taking live fire from the crowd. Officials also acknowledged deaths among the protesters, as well.
Later Saturday, multiple Katyusha rockets were fired from eastern Baghdad into the Green Zone, though there were no reports of casualties as a result of the attack.
Al-Sadr released a statement on Saturday, denouncing violence by protesters, urging only peaceful demonstrations over alleged corruption among the agency governing Iraqi elections.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's office issued a statement as the protests were ongoing that he "stresses the right of peaceful protests and protection of protesters, and the safety of people as well as public and private properties."
Al-Abadi ordered a government investigation into the fatalities on both sides.