Iraqi security forces yesterday raided the home of a Sunni legislator who backed anti-government protesters, sparking clashes that killed his brother and five guards, and arresting him, police said.
“Security forces attacked the residence of MP Ahmed al-Alwani in central Ramadi to arrest him this morning, sparking a battle with his guards with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades,” a police major told reporters, referring to a city west of Baghdad.
“Five of Alwani’s guards and his brother were killed and eight others wounded, while 10 security forces members were also wounded,” the major added.
A police captain confirmed the details of the raid, while a doctor at a Ramadi hospital verified the toll.
It was not immediately clear why Alwani was arrested, although he is a well-known supporter of Sunni anti-government protesters camped on a highway near Ramadi and frequently speaks at the site.
Protests broke out in Sunni Arab-majority areas of Iraq late last year after the arrest of guards of then-Iraqi minister finance Rafa al-Essawi, an influential Sunni politician, on terrorism charges.
The arrests were seen by Iraqi Sunnis as just the latest example of the Shiite-led government targeting one of their leaders.
Yet 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.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, said this month that the protest site near Ramadi had become a headquarters for al-Qaeda.
He called on “those who are with them in this place who refuse sabotage and who have legal or illegal demands... to leave these camps, and leave this place, so that al-Qaeda stays alone,” adding that protesters had a “very short period” in which to leave.
If security forces move against the site, it would likely fan the widespread discontent among the minority community and add to the already rampant violence plaguing the country.