Police clash with Sunni worshippers

2013-03-15 20:01
(Picture: AP)

(Picture: AP)

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Baghdad - Protesters clashed on Friday with Iraqi police trying to prevent them from reaching the most venerated Sunni mosque in Baghdad, as members of their sect once again massed for anti-government rallies in several Iraqi cities.

Several people were reported injured.

Iraqi security forces had prevented worshippers from holding on Friday prayers at the Abu Hanifa mosque last week as well, a development that reflects heightened sectarian tensions nearly a decade after the US invasion of Iraq.

Police officials said anti-riot police used batons and water hoses in order to prevent worshippers from crossing a bridge leading to the mosque, which is located in the primarily Sunni neighbourhood of Azamiyah.

The officials said several worshippers sustained bruises and minor injuries in the skirmishes at the bridge, about 2km from Abu Hanifa.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to talk to the media.

Abdul-Rahman al-Azzawi was among of a group of people who tried to cross the 14th of Ramadan Bridge when they were met by security forces.

"We were showered with water and the policemen started to beat us," he said.

"I do not know the reason behind this savage attack. We were only going to a mosque, not to al-Maliki's office in the Green Zone," referring to the heavily secured quarter in the centre of Baghdad where many officials have their offices.

The clashes did not reach the Abu Hanifa mosque itself.

Calm around mosque

The area around the holy site was calm and hundreds of people, including Sunni parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, attended the Friday prayers there.

During the Friday sermon in Abu Hanifa, Sunni cleric Ahmed Haasan al-Taha criticised the restriction of movement imposed on worshippers.

"Several days ago, the authorities promised us that they would provide the people free access to Abu Hanifa, but once again the government officials failed to live to their promises," al-Taha said.

In the western province of Anbar, the heart of the protest movement that began in December, masked men arrived at the site of demonstrations in Fallujah raising the flag used by predominantly Sunni rebels in neighbouring Syria.

They also held aloft a homemade black banner flag very similar to that used by al-Qaeda's branch in Iraq, suggesting that supporters of the terror group are trying to make their presence felt in the largely peaceful Sunni protests.

The protests in Sunni areas were sparked by the arrest of bodyguards assigned to Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi in late December.

Sunni protesters complain they suffer from discrimination by the Shi’ite-led government.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  iraq  |  religion

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