BAGHDAD Gunshots wounded at least two people Sunday at demonstrations in western Iraq when bodyguards and security forces protecting a senior Sunni politician opened fire to disperse protesters, a local official said, marking the first casualties in more than a week of rallies.
Some of the demonstrators were demanding that the politician, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, quit the Shiite-dominated government. Video of the chaotic scene showed hundreds of angry protesters chasing the official’s entourage, pelting them with rocks and bottles as repeated automatic gunfire rang out.
Al-Mutlaq’s office described the incident as an assassination attempt by “rogue elements” within the crowd of protesters. In a statement, it said an unspecified number of his bodyguards were also injured in the melee, and some of his convoy’s vehicles were damaged.
Iraqi Sunnis angry over their perceived second-class treatment by the government have been protesting for more than a week in the vast western Anbar province. Up to now there has been no violence.
The demonstrations reflect increasing sectarian tensions in Iraq, which is struggling to maintain stability nearly a decade after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime, and a year after the last U.S. troops withdrew.
The violence erupted near the city of Ramadi during a visit by al-Mutlaq, according to Anbar provincial council member Talib Hamadi al-Dulaimi.
It was unclear who fired the shots that caused the injuries, and if those hurt were targeted intentionally. It is often difficult to assign blame for gunfire injuries in Iraq, where weapons ownership is common and security forces often shoot into the air to break up scuffles.