Clashes in Baghdad between Iraqi security forces and supporters of parties that are disputing the results of an October general election injured more than two dozen people on Friday, police sources and health workers said.
It was the first significant violent clash between government forces and supporters of the political parties, most of which have armed wings and are aligned with Iran, since those groups lost dozens of parliament seats after the October 10 vote.
Police fired tear gas and live ammunition into the air as scores of the protesters threw stones and tried to advance towards Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign embassies, the security sources said.
More than 21 protesters were hurt mostly from smoke inhalation and another nine policeman injured from being pelted by stones, the hospital sources said.
The parties that made the biggest gains in Iraq's October election include that of populist Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who publicly opposes Iranian interference in Iraqi politics and has called for all remaining Western troops to withdraw from the country.
The Iran-backed groups disputing the election result are also Shiite but follow an Iranian model of theocratic governance which the nationalist Sadr and many ordinary Iraqi Shiites reject.
Iraq's majority Shiites have dominated government since the U.S.-led overthrow of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. Sunnis and Iraqi Kurds, the next biggest religious and ethnic groups in Iraq, lead significant alliances in parliament.
The election result was seen as a rejection by voters of foreign influence, especially that of Iran.
The parties disputing the result say there were irregularities in the voting process and vote counting, but have not provided compelling evidence for their claims.