Ten killed as Iraqi forces dismantle protest site

Residents gather to protest near the house of prominent Sunni Muslim lawmaker Ahmed al-Alwani, in the centre of Ramadi, Dec. 29, 2013. (Reuters)

Ten people were killed and 10 others were wounded in Iraq’s Anbar province on Monday as security forces dismantled the main anti-government protest site, prompting a mass resignation among Sunni lawmakers from the Iraqi parliament.

Iraqiya state TV reported that the move came after an agreement between security forces, religious leaders and tribal sheikhs.
But a statement by a top cleric gave lead to a different story.

Sheikh Abdel Malik Al-Saadi, an influential Sunni figure who backs the Anbar protest movement in Iraq, called on Anbar residents to “protect their honor” against the security forces and demanded Sunni lawmakers to resign.

Shortly afterwards, Dhafer al-Ani, a member of the Iraq National Accord bloc of Sunnis, said 44 members of parliament resigned in protest against Maliki's security operation.

The lawmakers demanded “the withdrawal of the army... and the release of MP Ahmed al-Alwani,” referring to a Sunni lawmaker who was arrested during a deadly raid on Saturday.

Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Maliki told The Associated Press that the protesters in Ramadi “still have the right to protest” but “not by erecting tents and blocking roads.”

Protests broke out in Sunni Arab-majority areas of Iraq late last year after the arrest of guards of then-finance minister Rafa al-Essawi, an influential Sunni Arab politician, on terrorism charges.

The arrests were seen by Iraqi Sunnis as yet another example of the Shiite-led government targeting one of their leaders.

But the demonstrations have tapped into deeper grievances, with Sunnis saying they are both marginalized by the Shiite-led government and unfairly targeted with heavy-handed tactics by security forces.

Maliki said this month that the protest site near Ramadi had become a headquarters for al-Qaeda, and called on legitimate demonstrators to leave.

“I say clearly and honestly that the sit-in site in Anbar has turned into a headquarters for the leadership of al-Qaeda,” Maliki, a Shiite, said in remarks broadcast on state television.

Following the police’s efforts to dismantle the protest camp, Iraq’s largest Sunni-backed group, the Iraqiya bloc, threatened to quit Maliki’s government, an Al Arabiya correspondent reported.

Meanwhile, mosques in the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, called for “holy war” Monday as gunmen battled security forces seeking to dismantle an anti-government protest site, an AFP journalist said.

Some mosques used loudspeakers to exhort people to “go to jihad,” or holy war, the journalist said.

(With AFP and the Associated Press)

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