Funerals for six protesters killed by Iraq troops
Saturday, 26 January 2013
FALLUJAH, Iraq: Funerals were to be held on Saturday for six anti-government demonstrators killed by Iraqi troops during a rally in Fallujah a day earlier, sharply raising tensions amid weeks of angry rallies.
The deaths in the predominantly Sunni town west of Baghdad were the first since protests began last month, and came as tens of thousands rallied in Sunni areas of the country, railing against alleged targeting of their minority by the Shiite-led authorities.
While some Shiite clerics gave cross-sectarian support to the protests, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki blamed demonstrators for "raising tensions" and insisted soldiers had been "attacked."
Friday's rally had been moving from central to eastern Fallujah, 60 kilometres (35 miles) from Baghdad, but was blocked off by soldiers, police captain Nasser Awad said.
Protesters then began throwing bottles of water at the troops, who opened fire.
Six demonstrators were killed, all of them from gunshot wounds, said Khaled Khalaf al-Rawi, a doctor at Fallujah hospital. Rawi said 35 were wounded, the majority by gunfire.
Defence ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari said an inquiry had begun, and pledged that victims would be financially compensated.
Officials in Fallujah earlier said the army had vacated the town and had been ordered to transfer security responsibility to the police.
Maliki called for restraint by security forces in a statement issued by his office, but also said soldiers had been attacked in the first place.
"This is what Al-Qaeda and terrorist groups are seeking to exploit," he said, referring to apparent sectarian tensions.
Along with protests in Fallujah on Friday, large demonstrations also took place in several other Sunni cities in north and west Iraq, as well as in Sunni neighbourhoods of Baghdad.
The protests have hardened opposition against Maliki and come amid a political crisis less than three months ahead of key provincial elections. (AFP)