Protests in Iraq continue amid new killings

Anti-al-Qaeda fighters targeted near Baghdad as fresh demonstrations are held against Maliki’s Shia-led government.

Thousands of Sunni Muslim Iraqis have continued to protest in the city Ramadi against the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Demonstrations following Friday Muslim noon prayers also took place in the capital city of Baghdad, the northern city of Mosul, and the central city of Fallujah.

“Protesters were all united under the same theme for this Friday’s protest: ‘Iraq or Maliki’,” Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reported from Baghdad.

Protests have been ongoing for weeks, with protesters demanding the release of prisoners and the end to allegedly sectarian policies.

The rallies were sparked by the arrest on December 20 of bodyguards of Iraq’s finance minister, a Sunni, and have spurred allegations that the government was using anti-terror legislation to target the Sunni minority.

Sunni demands

Many demonstrators are calling for an end to what they see as the marginalisation of Iraq’s Sunni minority, which dominated the country until the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein.

They want the Shia Muslim-led government to abolish anti-terrorism laws they say are used to persecute them.

But these demands are “just the immediate picture”, our correspondent said.

“The bigger picture is that Sunnis feel that they are not a part of this country any more. And that is not a sentiment exclusive to Sunnis. There is a lot of discontent in the country,” she said

“What has to happen is for all the factions – Arabs, Kurds, Sunnis, Shias and everybody else –  to get together and talk, which they have not been doing.”

Sahwa fighters killed

In a separate development, Iraqi officials said armed men wearing military uniforms on Friday  killed seven anti-al-Qaeda militia members in an attack in a town north of Baghdad.

Police officials say the assailants asked a local militia leader in Tuz Khurmato to accompany them to a checkpoint manned by a pro-government group, known as Sahwa, for questioning early on Friday.

After reaching at the checkpoint, the armed men overpowered the leader and his men and then executed them.

Medics in nearby hospital confirmed the casualties.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to brief reporters.

Sahwa members joined forces with US troops to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq during the war.

Ever since then, the group has been a target for al-Qaeda-linked fighters who consider its members traitors.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies