Friday, 25 January 2013
Iraqi Army Opens Fire, Fatefully, In Fallujah

From The New York Times:

January 25, 2013

Clashes Turn Deadly After Iraqi Forces Open Fire on Protesters

BAGHDAD – At least four protesters and two soldiers were shot dead on Friday in clashes that started after Iraqi Army forces opened fire on demonstrators who had pelted them with rocks on the outskirts of Falluja. It was the first time that one of the anti-government protests that have been seething in Iraq for more than a month have led to deadly confrontation between the protesters, who are mostly Sunni opponents of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and government forces.

A security source said one clash started when protesters began attacking the government forces with rocks at a checkpoint near a main highway. The forces opened fire, angering demonstrators who responded by burning army vehicles and two cars belonging to a lawmaker from the mainly Sunni Iraqiya bloc and to a local politician from Anbar Province where Falluja is located. A medical source in Falluja, west of Baghdad, said a civilian was killed and about 40 people were wounded.

Later, unidentified gunmen shot dead two soldiers and wounded one at an army checkpoint south of Falluja in apparent retaliation, and gunmen kidnapped three soldiers, a police source said.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry later broadcast a statement saying it would investigate and punish those responsible for the gunfire, while compensating the people who were harmed.

Sectarian unrest and political tension have been worsening since December, when security forces loyal to Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, raided the home of the country’s Sunni finance minister.

The raid revived accusations by Sunnis and others that Mr. Maliki and his political bloc were seeking to monopolize power before provincial elections in April. Mr. Maliki, who became prime minister during the American-led military occupation of Iraq, has denied the accusations and rejected demands to resign.

Protests have been seething since then, mostly intensifying on Fridays when the week’s largest communal prayer sessions are held, inspiring what are now known as “No Retreat Fridays.” There were also demonstrations in Ninevah, Salahuddin, Diyala and Kirkuk provinces calling for government reforms.

“The army must get out of Anbar now and leave it to the police forces, because the people are very angry about the direct gunfire from the army toward the peaceful protesters,” said a local religious leader, Imam Ahmed Deri, who was at the demonstration in Falluja.

“We will continue protesting and this will give us more strength to face any kind of force,” he added, while warning about the potential for retaliation from protesters angered over the shooting. “We will do our best to keep it peaceful.”

One of the protesters, Muhammed Abdula, said: “This army is not wanted here anymore. We will not allow them in anymore, we are peaceful  protesters. The army must protect us, not attack us. Is this the democracy that Maliki talks about? We give them words and they give us gunfire?”

In Nineveh, thousands of protesters called on the government to step down.

“Today we protest in Mosul, tomorrow we take the streets of Baghdad,” they shouted.

 But in Baghdad, in Firdous Square, where the Americans orchestrated the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in 2003, hundreds gathered to support Mr. Maliki’s government and to demand that efforts be made to prevent the return of Baathist leaders to power.
Posted on 01/25/2013 8:33 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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