Clashes erupt at Iraqi protest

Deputy prime minister’s arrival prompts clashes

BAGHDAD (CNN) —At least five people were  injured when bodyguards for a top Iraqi official opened fire on stone-throwing  Sunni demonstrators Sunday, the country’s interior ministry said.

The clashes broke out  after Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq arrived to address crowds protesting  in a plaza in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi.

Tens of thousands of  demonstrators have been there for nearly a week, demanding that the Shiite-led  government stop what they call second-class treatment of Iraq’s Sunni  residents.

Some demonstrators Sunday  called for al-Multaq, who is Sunni, to submit his resignation to Prime Minister  Nuri al-Maliki’s government. Protesters chanted, “Leave! Leave!” and threw  stones at him, witnesses told CNN.

The deputy prime  minister’s bodyguards opened fire in an attempt to disperse the crowd as  protesters hurled stones at the stage, Anbar provincial council member Suhaib  al-Rawi told CNN. A protester with a gunshot wound was among five people  injured, al-Rawi said. Details about the other injuries were not immediately  clear.

Sunnis largely boycotted  Iraq’s 2005 elections, leading to the emergence of a Shiite-led government. The  move left the once-ruling minority disaffected, which contributed to years of  bloody insurgency and sectarian warfare.

The arrest of a group of  bodyguards for Iraq’s Sunni finance minister fueled a surge in protests last  week in Ramadi, about 110 km (70 miles) west of Baghdad, and in several other  Iraqi cities.

On Friday, protesters  carrying flags dating back to the Saddam Hussein regime took to the streets in  the predominately Sunni Anbar province, blocking a vital highway that connects  Iraq with Syria and Jordan.

The demonstrations were  called by tribal leaders and Sunni scholars, protesting against what they  decried as unjust practices of Maliki’s government.

Protesters demanded the  release of detainees they said were held without charges. They called the  government corrupt and accused it of unfairly targeting Iraq’s Sunni  community.

BAGHDAD (CNN) —”We don’t want your food,  your water and your medicine,” one scholar told the crowd. “We want our rights,  our dignity.”

In the wake of the  protests, al-Maliki has defended his government.

“Nobody in Iraq has  privilege over others,” he said Friday, calling for increased dialogue.

“When we want to express  an opinion, we have to do it in a civilized, humane and patriotic manner,” he  said. “It is not expected to express your opinion by cutting off roads, steering  strife and sectarianism, fighting, bragging about wars and dividing Iraq.”