Protesters Attack Iraqi Deputy PM, Guards Open Fire

Posted December 30th, 2012 at 9:00 am (UTC-5)
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An attempt by Iraq's Sunni deputy prime minister to defuse an anti-government protest in the country's west has ended in chaos, with his bodyguards opening fire and wounding two people as demonstrators tried to attack the official.

The incident happened on Sunday near the city of Ramadi, where thousands of minority Sunnis have been staging a week of daily street protests against perceived discrimination by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a majority Shi'ite. The protesters also have blocked a major highway.

Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, one of the most senior Sunni officials in the government, made an unannounced visit to the protest site to try to address the concerns of his fellow Sunnis. But, his presence angered many demonstrators, who shouted abuse at him and threw bottles and stones at his entourage.

Mutlaq's bodyguards fired warning shots to disperse the crowd and help him to leave the scene. It was not clear if the two people wounded by the gunfire were struck intentionally or accidentally.

The mass protests in Iraq's Sunni-dominated Anbar province began after government security forces arrested bodyguards of Iraq's Sunni finance minister Rafia al-Issawi earlier this month. The demonstrators perceived the arrests as part of a campaign by the Shi'ite-led government to marginalize Sunnis, who dominated Iraq until the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.