Iraqi police fired live ammunition and volleys of tear gas canisters to disperse thousands of protesters in Baghdad on Friday as anti-government demonstrations resumed after a three-week hiatus.
Security forces were deployed on the streets of Iraq's capital city on Thursday night in anticipation. The protests are a continuation of the economically driven demonstrations that began in early October and turned deadly as security forces cracked down, even firing live rounds into crowds.
At least two people were killed and about 100 wounded.
Demonstrators have called on the government to address high unemployment, poor public services, and corruption, blaming fraud and infighting among political leaders for failing to improve their lives - two years after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) was declared defeated in Iraq.
"We want the government to step down and for the political system to be completely revamped," a 20-something year-old protester in Baghdad's Tahrir Square told Al Jazeera.
"The whole political elite needs to change becuase the current system has done nothing for us," added the demonstrator, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons.
A 28-year-old lawyer told Al Jazeera that change needs to begin with a new constitution.
"We want and new constitution. Without that, nothing can change. It is the constitution that has created the sectarian crisis we've lived in for years," said the protester, who also wished to remain anonymous.
Many Iraqis blame the current constitution, which was drafted and approved in 2005, two years after the US-led invasion, for the sectarian nature of Iraq's political system.
Iraqi soldiers fired tear gas on Friday morning as protesters tried to cross a bridge leading to Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the US embassy and Iraqi government offices.
At least two demonstrators were killed, the Iraqi Human Rights Commission said. Commission member Ali Bayati said both protesters appeared to have died from wounds sustained when they were hit by tear gas canisters.
Meanwhile, Iraq's top Shia Cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on protesters and security forces to keep anti-government demonstrations peaceful.
"Real reform and change in the country has to be through peaceful methods," a representative of the cleric said during the Friday sermon in the holy city of Kerbala.
Sistani, who rarely weighs in on politics except in times of crisis, said that security forces must not allow attacks on public and private property.
Reporting from Baghdad, Al Jazeera's Natasha Ghoneim said demonstrators penetrated the Green Zone on Thursday night after toppling barricades around the heavily fortified area. She said gunfire, water cannon, and tear gas were used to push protesters back to Tahrir Square in central Baghdad.
"People are very upset about the ongoing lack of economic opportunities, basic services - such as water and electricity - and what they perceive to be a dysfunctional government that is looting the country of its money. Adding to their anger is the fact that in the first round of protests earlier this month, 149 protesters were killed," said Ghoneim.
Iraqi protesters defy tear gas and live ammunition fired by security forces by gathering in central Baghdad to demand that teh government step down [Bakr al-Ubaidi/ Al Jazeera]
A government-appointed inquiry into the protests determined in a report published on Tuesday that security forces had used excessive force and live fire to quell the demonstrations, killing 149 people and wounding more than 3,000. Eight members of the security forces were also killed.
The report, which said more than 70 percent of the deaths were caused by gunshots to head or chest, held senior commanders responsible, but stopped short of blaming Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and other top officials, saying there had been no orders to shoot.
The violence - Iraq's worst since the fight against ISIL in 2017 - has posed the biggest challenge to Abdul Mahdi since he took office a year ago.
Commenting on the protests, which come on the one-year anniversay of Abdul Mahdi being sworn in as prime minister, Renad Mansour, research fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, told Al Jazeera that Friday's protests were part of a years-long process of disillusionment among Iraq youth.
""Iraqis are rejecting the post-2003 system and they have been trying to voice, year after year, their grievances and sense of disillusionment with it," Mansour explained.
"This has come in the form of low voter turn-out in the last election, protests across the south [of Iraq] last year ... and even going back to the mass [anti-government] protests in 2015," he added.
The main difference according to Mansour however is the spike in violence which has escalated since early October.