The violent arrest of Ahmed al-Alwani is likely to inflame
tensions in Sunni-dominated Anbar, where protesters have been
demonstrating against what they see as marginalization of their sect
by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government.
Alwani belongs to the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc and has been a
strong critic of Maliki and an influential figure in the protest
Police sources said a two-hour firefight broke out on Saturday when
bodyguards and members of Alwani's tribe resisted police and army
forces who went to arrest Alwani on charges of "terrorism" from his
house in the center of the city of Ramadi.
They said those killed in the fighting included three of Alwani's
bodyguards, his sister and his brother.
"Army troops with police special forces were trying to arrest Alwani
from his house, but fierce fighting erupted. Five bodies, including
one woman, were taken to Falluja hospital," one police source said.
No members of Alwani's family could immediately be reached to give
their version of events. Parliament speaker Usama al-Nujaifi, a
Sunni, called the operation a "blatant violation" of Iraq's
constitution and a "dangerous precedent."
Lieutenant-General Ali Ghaidan, commander of Iraqi ground forces,
told state television that security forces had also tried to arrest
Alwani's brother Ali, whom he accused of involvement in attacks that
killed Iraqi soldiers in Anbar.
Ali was killed in the fighting, as well as one Iraqi soldier,
"We treated Ahmed al-Alwani well. We told him that we had a warrant
for his arrest, and arrested him," he said, adding that two of
Alwani's bodyguards were wounded.
Violence in Iraq is at its worst levels since 2006-7, when tens of
thousands of people were killed in fighting between Sunnis and
Shi'ites. Bombings, shootings and suicide attacks, many staged by al
Qaeda militants, are a near-daily occurrence.
[to top of second column]
Saturday's clashes may undermine Maliki's efforts to put an end to
the protests in Anbar ahead of April elections.
In a statement on state television on Friday, Maliki said it would
be the "last Friday" the protests and sit-ins would be allowed to
Many Sunnis in the region are likely to see the incident as another
example of what they portray as a crackdown against minority Sunni
In September last year, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, one of
Iraq's most prominent Sunni politicians, was sentenced to death in
absentia for murders committed by sectarian death squads. Hashemi,
who denies the charges, fled to Turkey.
Finance Minister Rafie al-Essawi's bodyguards were arrested in
December, sparking the Sunni protests.
A raid on a protest camp in the northern town of Hawija in April
sparked fighting that killed over 40 people. Hardline al
Qaeda-linked Sunni militants have since stepped up attacks against
Iraq's government and anyone seen as supporting it.
One such attack in Anbar last week killed at least 18 Iraqi
soldiers, including a military commander who oversaw the crackdown.
(Reporting by Kamal Namaa in Ramadi and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad;
writing by Alexander Dziadosz; editing by Rosalind Russell)
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