Thousands of supporters of firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday staged a funeral procession in Baghdad for four pro-Sadr demonstrators killed this weekend in clashes with security forces.
Funeral participants converged on a public square near eastern Baghdad’s Mohamed al-Qasim Bridge chanting slogans against government corruption and demanding reform of Iraqi state institutions.
The Iraqi authorities, meanwhile, stepped up security across the capital, closing all bridges leading to the Green Zone, which contains government buildings, parliament and foreign diplomatic missions.
Vehicles were also prevented from using the Mohamed al-Qasim highway leading to central Baghdad’s Tahrir Square -- the site of massive protests three days earlier that had preceded the deadly clashes.
On Saturday, thousands of al-Sadr supporters staged demonstrations in Tahrir Square to decry perceived government corruption and demand reform of Iraq’s official electoral commission.
One police officer and four demonstrators were killed -- while some 320 others were injured -- in clashes that ensued after security forces tried to disperse demonstrators by force.
In recent weeks, al-Sadr has called for the formulation of a new electoral commission untainted by what he describes as "political and sectarian" bias.
Commission officials, however, reject the assertion, saying the body provides objective oversight of the country’s elections.
For the past year, al-Sadr’s supporters have staged numerous protests in Baghdad in an effort to pressure Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi to appoint a government of apolitical "technocrats".
In a dramatic turn of events last summer, thousands of al-Sadr loyalists stormed Iraq’s parliament building in the Green Zone to press home their demands.
In mid-2015, parliament approved a sweeping raft of reforms ostensibly aimed at meeting popular demands for the elimination of government corruption and the streamlining of state bureaucracy.
Critics, however, including Iraq’s Sadrists, say most of the promised reforms have yet to be implemented.
Reporting by Ali Jawad; Writing by Ali H. M.Abo Rezeg