Gunmen on pick-up trucks late on Friday attacked a large building near the al-Sinak bridge where anti-government protesters had been camped out for weeks.
“According to our sources, this violence began late last night around Khilani Square that’s just north of Tahrir Square,” Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari said on Saturday, reporting from Baghdad.
The attackers forced the protesters out of the building and live rounds could be heard after the altercation.
State television said the building had been torched “by unidentified men”.
The attacks claimed the lives of 22 protesters and three policemen, officials said.
Some protesters accused the government of colluding with the masked gunmen, pointing to a power outage that happened around the same time as the attacks.
But a senior electricity ministry official, who requested anonymity in line with regulations, denied the allegation. The official said it would have been easy for anyone to cut the power lines.
Jabbari said the violence was an escalation “in terms of the division that’s being created within the demonstrations and the various groups that are trying to take control of the voice on the streets of Baghdad”.
The attacks came a day after a string of suspicious stabbing incidents left at least 13 wounded in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of Iraq’s leaderless weeks-long protest movement.