Iraqi security forces fire tear gas on the followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sadr in Baghdad, Iraq. AP
Fighting between rival Iraqi forces raged for a second day Tuesday with rocket fire echoing from Baghdad's Green Zone where 23 supporters of powerful Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr have been shot dead, medics said.
Tensions have soared in Iraq amid a political crisis that has left the country without a new government, prime minister or president for months, and escalated sharply after Sadr's supporters on Monday afternoon stormed the government palace following their leader's announcement that he was quitting politics.
The violence pitches backers of Sadr against rival Shiite factions backed by neighbouring Iran.
Overnight, shelling targeted the high-security Green Zone that houses government buildings and diplomatic missions, a security source said, amid angry protests after Sadr's surprise announcement.
Members of Sadrâ€™s Peace Brigades fighters gather during clashes with the Iraqi security forces in Baghdad. Reuters
At least seven shells fell in the high-security Green Zone, the security source said on condition of anonymity, but it was not immediately clear who was responsible.
The security source said Sadr's supporters opened fire at the Green Zone from the outside, adding security forces inside "were not responding".
After a lull in violence, fresh clashes between Sadr's supporters and the army and men of the Hashed Al Shaabi, former Tehran-backed paramilitaries integrated into the Iraqi forces, erupted again on Tuesday morning.
The rattle of automatic gunfire and heavier explosions of rocket-propelled grenades could be heard from the Green Zone, AFP correspondents reported.
Earlier, at least seven shells fell in the high-security Green Zone, which houses government buildings and diplomatic missions, the security source said late Monday on condition of anonymity.
A supporter of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr carries bullet casings and a spent shotgun shell in Baghdad. AFP
It was not immediately clear who was behind the shelling, which was followed by the sound of automatic weapons in the Green Zone.
The security source said Sadr's supporters opened fire at the Green Zone from the outside, adding that security forces inside "were not responding".
Shots were fired earlier in the fortified area, an AFP correspondent said, and medics said 15 Sadr supporters had been shot dead and 350 other protesters injured -- some with bullet wounds and others suffering tear gas inhalation.
Witnesses said earlier that Sadr loyalists and supporters of a rival Shiite bloc, the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, had exchanged fire.
The Framework condemned an "attack on state institutions", urging the Sadrists to engage in "dialogue".
The army had announced a nationwide curfew from 7pm (1600 GMT).