BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi security forces fired tear gas and gunshots in the air as hundreds of anti-government protesters stormed Baghdad's heavily secured Green Zone on Friday. Several demonstrators, mostly supporters of powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, were wounded as the crowd rushed the prime minister's office and the parliament building.
The violence prompted Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to impose a curfew in the country's capital but it was lifted just a few hours later. By evening, the protesters were cleared from the Green Zone compound.
Earlier in the day, crowds of mostly young men gathered outside the Green Zone walls, with their numbers swelling into the thousands. This led security forces to push through the crowd on foot, firing volleys of tear gas in an effort to push the people back from the gates.
The violence quickly escalated. The protesters who made it into the Green Zone rushed toward the prime minister's office and the parliament building. Some posted jubilant photographs from inside the premier's office on social media sites.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw several protesters badly wounded and one was shot in the head. Ambulances weaved through the crowd to ferry away those hurt. Al-Sadr's media office said two protesters were killed in the clashes. Hospital and police officials said at least 106 protesters were wounded, five seriously. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release the information.
Al-Sadr released a statement condemning the government's use of force against unarmed protesters Friday, saying he supports the "people's revolution."
Friday's events "cannot be accepted and tolerated" al-Abadi said referring to the protests and Green Zone breach in a speech broadcast on state run TV late Friday night. Al-Abadi referred to the protesters as "sneaking elements" who were allied with the Baath party and IS.
"Chaos is not good for the country," Al-Abadi warned, as it distracts from the fight against IS and the current wave of terrorist attacks in and around Baghdad.
Friday's violence came more than two weeks after the highly fortified compound was first breached by al-Sadr's supporters in April.
Iraqi security forces at the time largely stood down, allowing protesters to scale walls and pull down concrete barriers. Al-Abadi later replaced the head of the compound security.
The initial breach followed repeated delays to proposed government reform legislation. Since then, Iraq's government has been gridlocked and the parliament unable to convene.
Meanwhile, a string of deadly bombings has killed more than 200 over the past couple of weeks in and around Baghdad. The attacks, many claimed by the Islamic State group, follow territorial losses the Sunni militants have suffered at the hands of Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led coalition aircraft.
On Thursday, Iraqi forces declared that the western town of Rutba was fully liberated after nearly two years of IS control.
Associated Press writers Murtada Faraj and Karim Kadim in Baghdad contributed to this report.