Sunday 24 September 2017

Seven die in gun battle as troops arrest Sunni lawmaker

SINAN SALAHEDDIN

Iraqi troops detained a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges yesterday and killed his brother and five of his guards after they opened fire on the arresting officers.

The incident, which is likely to add to the nation's sectarian tensions, also left one Iraqi soldier dead.

The arrested lawmaker, Ahmed al-Alwani, has been prominent among the organisers of Sunni protests against Iraq's Shi'ite-led government over the past year.

He is sought on terrorism charges for inciting violence against Shi'ites who came to power after the 2003 US-led invasion that ended Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led regime.

As military and security forces arrived at his home at dawn in the western city of Ramadi, Mr al-Alwani's guards and tribesmen opened fire, prompting a shoot-out, a police officer said. A spokesman of Iraq's counter-terrorism forces, Sameer al-Showaili, told state TV that Mr al-Alwani surrendered after he ran out of ammunition.

Along with those killed at the scene -- Mr al-Alwani's brother, five guards and a soldier -- 12 guards and five soldiers were also wounded.

Mr Al-Alwani's parliamentary bloc, Iraqiya, demanded his release and denounced the arrest as politically motivated, saying it was intended to benefit the bloc's rivals in next year's national elections.

"The arrest of al-Alwani and the assassination of his brother are part of a campaign for the elections," said Sunni lawmaker, Salman al-Jumaili, who heads the bloc in the parliament. He said the Shi'ite-led government is "agitating sectarian tension regardless of the consequences on the future of the country."

Since last December, Iraq's Sunni minority has been staging protests against what they claim is second-class treatment at the hands of the Shi'ite majority. The Sunnis have also been demanding an end to some laws they believe unfairly target them.

Mr Al-Alwani's arrest comes a year after several bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi, a Sunni, were arrested in a terrorism-related sweep, and two years after authorities issued an arrest warrant against Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, also on terrorism charges.

Mr Al-Hashemi, who is now living in exile in Turkey, has been given several death sentences after Iraqi courts found him guilty in absentia in multiple terrorism-related cases. He denied the charges as politically-motivated.

The year-long Sunni protests have been coupled with a rising wave of insurgent attacks across Iraq, and the government and some pro-government officials and tribal elders in Anbar have accused the protests camps of sheltering members of the local al-Qaeda branch believed responsible for the attacks.

After an ambush in Anbar killed a senior military commander and six others, Iraqi security forces last Saturday launched a massive military operation to chase down al-Qaeda fighters in the province's vast dessert. Al-Qaeda is believed to have made use of the war in Syria, which borders Anbar, to rebuild its organisation in Iraq.

In a statement posted yesterday on a militant website, Iraq's al-Qaeda branch, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, claimed the military operation was not affecting its fighters and listed 16 purported attacks against Iraqi security forces in Anbar in the past few days.

Irish Independent

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