Iraqi soldiers killed five people after opening fire on an anti-government protest in an attempt to disperse it, reports Al Jazeera. Troops clashed with thousands of Sunni Muslims in Falluja, protesting against Iraq’s Shiite PM Nuri al-Maliki.
Sunni activists gathered in the western city of Falluja to call for the resignation of PM al-Maliki in a protest dubbed the "Friday of No Retreat." Security forces initially fired shots in the air to disperse the crowds when protesters pelted them with stones, but later troops fired on activists who set a military vehicle on fire, reported Reuters.
The Sunni-majority city of Falluja has been a hub for anti-government protests recently, with demonstrators decrying government marginalization of their minority group.
"We received three bodies with gunshot wounds in the abdomen, back and shoulder," a hospital source told Reuters.
Elsewhere in the country disgruntled Sunnis took to the streets to voice anger over a reform of anti-terror laws that they say persecute the Sunni minority. They also called for the release of 400 prisoners, some of whom were being held illegally.
"Do not give space to those who … want to take away your rights, even though it is their duty to protect them," said Adnan al-Naimi, an imam at the Najib Basha mosque in north Baghdad where about 400 demonstrators congregated, to AFP.
The Sunni-majority city of Falluja has been a hub for anti-government protests recently, with demonstrators decrying government marginalization of their minority group. Protests have become commonplace over the past couple of weeks, raising fears that widening sectarian rifts could lead to violence in the streets.
Unrest was sparked in December when Prime Minister Maliki ordered the arrest of Finance Minister Rafaie Esawi’s bodyguards on alleged terrorism charges. Sunnis condemned their arrest as a crackdown on their community, while the government said the move was not politically motivated.
Iraq’s Sunni population has repeatedly decried Prime Minister Maliki for cutting Sunnis out of the political process to consolidate power in Iraq. Since Saddam Hussein was dislodged from government in 2003 the rift between the two sects has deepened.
Prime Minister Maliki warned demonstrators across the country on January 9 that security forces could step in to halt illegal protests.
“There is a difference between a peaceful rally and an act of disobedience and blocking off a highway,” Maliki stated.