Iraq's Tahrir Square
Thousands of people gather in Baghdad's Tahrir Square to protest in favour of electoral reform.Reuters

UPDATED: Two police officers and five protesters have been killed during clashes in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Saturday (11 February).

Thousands of protesters gathered in the heart of the capital after populist Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr started a campaign to push for electoral reform ahead of September's elections.

The protest started peacefully with speakers addressing the large crowds in Tahrir Square, but then groups of people broke away and attempted to break through a security cordon guarding the main road to the Green Zone – Baghdad's International Zone, where the Coalition forces were based during the country's occupation.

"The demonstrators tried to cross Jumhuriya Bridge, the security forces fired tear gas to stop them but they insisted," a senior police official told AFP reporters.

Security forces also fired rubber bullets at the protesters. At least 11 have been wounded – many with serious head injuries.

Details of the deaths are yet to be established.

Al-Sadr gave de facto clearance for protesters to rush the Green Zone and escalate the protests during his speech.

"If you want to approach the gates of the Green Zone to affirm your demands and make them heard to those on the other side of the fence… you can," he said, encouraging supporters to remain there until sunset.

A number of government buildings, including the electoral commission lie in the Green Zone.

Protesters were demanding that members of the electoral commission be replaced on the basis they are affiliated to political parties, therefore the body overseeing the process not independent.

They also want the electoral law to be amended so that smaller political parties are represented on the ballot.

Al-Sadr urged Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi not to turn a deaf ear to the demands of the protesters.

"I urge him to deliver those reforms immediately, listen to the voice of the people and remove the corrupt," he said.

Last year, at similar protests, Al-Sadr's followers were successful in breaching the Green Zone and a heavy security presence was ready and waiting for any charge.

Green Zone border
Dozens of Iraqi security forces seen at the Green Zone borders before clashes erupted.Reuters