Nine Dead, Army Withdraws After Protests in Fallujah
At least nine people are dead and over 50 wounded after clashes broke out between the Iraqi Army and protesters near a checkpoint in Fallujah, Anbar province. The altercation is the first deadly occurrence in more than a month of protests against Prime Minister Maliki and could represent a significant uptick in sectarian strife in Iraq. According to eyewitnesses, soldiers had initially fired into the air after protesters began pelting them with stones but began opening fire on the crowd after it set fire to a military vehicle. At least seven protesters were killed in the melee, and two soldiers were later shot dead while a third was wounded by gunmen at another checkpoint south of Falluja. Three soldiers were taken captive as well.
Sunni protests against the prime minister began last December after security forces raided the home of the finance minister, a Sunni, on terrorism charges that many see as politically motivated. Demonstrations have been more intense on what have come to be known as “no retreat Fridays.”
The Iraqi Defense Ministry issued a statement promising an investigation and to punish soldiers who fired on the crowd, as well as compensation for victims, but for many that was not enough. “The army must get out of Anbar now…because the people are very angry,” said Imam Ahmed Deri, a local religious leader who was at the protest. The army agreed to withdraw from Fallujah within twenty four hours and will be replaced by the federal police, who have issued a curfew for the city. Speaking last week, Martin Kobler, the U.N. special envoy to Iraq, expressed alarm at the escalation of violence in the country. Dozens died and more than one hundred were wounded last week across Iraq.