RAMADI : Iraqi security forces on Saturday raided the home of a Sunni MP who backs anti-government protesters, arresting him and sparking clashes that killed his brother and five guards, police said.
The raid threatens to inflame widespread discontent among Iraq’s minority Sunni Arab community and could compound the rampant violence bedevilling the country. A police major said automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers were used in clashes that broke out during the raid on MP Ahmed al-Alwani’s home in Ramadi, west of Baghdad.
Alwani’s brother and five guards were killed, while 18 people, including 10 security forces members, were wounded, according to two police officers and a doctor from the Ramadi hospital.
The defence ministry meanwhile said Alwani’s brother Ali, who was wanted on terrorism charges, was the target of the raid, which took place about 4:00 am (0100 GMT). When security forces arrived, the two brothers and their guards opened fire, killing one security forces member and wounding five, the ministry said in a statement. Ali and two guards were wounded in clashes and taken to hospital, while Ahmed was arrested, the ministry said. A blurry image of Ahmed al-Alwani, his head down and his face apparently bruised, was posted on the Iraqi special forces’ Facebook page, with a caption indicating he was arrested by counter-terrorism forces.
Parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni, sharply criticised the arrest and described it as “treading on the core of the Iraqi constitution and a clear violation of its articles.” Nujaifi said in a statement MPs have legal immunity and added he was dispatching a parliamentary delegation to Anbar province, where the raid occurred, to investigate the case. However, the constitution says MPs can be arrested without parliament waiving immunity if they are caught committing a serious crime, which security forces may argue in Alwani’s case.
Alwani, in his 40s and serving his second term as an MP, is a well-known supporter of Sunni Arab anti-government protesters camped on a highway near Ramadi, and has frequently spoken at the site.
Protests broke out in Sunni Arab-majority areas of Iraq late last year after the arrest of guards of then-finance minister Rafa al-Essawi, an influential Sunni Arab politician, on terrorism charges. The arrests were seen by Iraqi Sunnis as the latest example of the Shiite-led govt targeting one of their leaders. But the demonstrations have tapped into deeper grievances, with Sunnis saying they are both marginalised by the Shiite-led govt and unfairly targeted with heavy-handed tactics by security forces.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, said on December 22 that the protest site near Ramadi had become a headquarters for Al-Qaeda, and urged legitimate demonstrators to leave.
“I say clearly and honestly that the sit-in site in Anbar has turned into a headquarters for the leadership of Al-Qaeda,” Maliki said in remarks broadcast on state television. 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 protesters had a “very short period” in which to leave.
Sunni discontent has been a key factor in the escalating unrest in Iraq this year, boosting recruitment for militant groups, pushing them to carry out attacks and eroding cooperation with security forces.
But while the government has made some concessions aimed at placating Sunni Arabs, including freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of anti-Al-Qaeda fighters, underlying issues remain unaddressed.
The last major security operation at a protest site, near the northern town of Hawijah on April 23, sparked clashes in which dozens of people were killed.
Nationwide death tolls from violence has spiked, reaching a level not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings.
The violence continued on Saturday, with attacks by suicide bombers and gunmen killing seven people in Iraq, among them three police and two soldiers, and wounding 11.
More than 6,700 people have been killed in violence since the beginning of the year, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.