RAMADI, Iraq — Iraqi security forces on Saturday raided the home of a Sunni MP who backs anti-government protesters, arresting him and sparking clashes that killed his brother and five guards, police said.
The raid threatens to inflame widespread discontent among Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority and could compound rampant violence plaguing the country.
Police said automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades were used in the clashes that erupted during the raid on MP Ahmed Al Alwani’s home in Ramadi, west of Baghdad.
Alwani’s brother and five guards were killed, while 18 people, including 10 members of the security forces, were wounded, police and a doctor at Ramadi hospital said.
The defence ministry said Alwani’s brother Ali, who was wanted on terrorism charges, was the target of the early morning raid.
When security forces arrived, the two brothers and their guards opened fire, killing one security forces member and wounding five, a ministry statement said.
Iraqi ground forces commander Staff General Ali Ghaidan Majeed said Ali Al Alwani was wounded and died later in hospital, while two guards were also wounded and Ahmed was arrested.
A blurred image of Ahmed Al Alwani, his head down and face apparently bruised, was posted on the Iraqi special forces’ Facebook page, with a caption indicating he had been arrested by counterterrorism forces.
Hundreds of people armed with automatic weapons protested at Alwani’s home after the raid, an AFP journalist said.
“With soul, with blood, we sacrifice for you, doctor,” they shouted, referring to the MP.
Hundreds of people also protested in Fallujah, east of Ramadi, police said.
Parliament speaker Osama Al Nujaifi, a Sunni, described the arrest as “treading on the core of the Iraqi constitution and a clear violation of its articles”.
Nujaifi said in a statement that MPs have immunity and that he was dispatching a parliamentary delegation to Anbar province, where the raid occurred, to investigate.
However, the constitution says MPs can be arrested without parliament waiving immunity if they are caught committing a serious crime, which security forces may argue in Alwani’s case.
Powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, meanwhile, called at a news conference for security forces to avoid sectarianism, saying that “if you are a Shiite soldier, you are a brother of the Sunni, Christian and Kurd”.
Alwani, in his 40s and serving his second term as an MP, is a well-known supporter of Sunni Arab anti-government protesters camped on a highway near Ramadi, and has frequently spoken at the site.
Protests broke out in Sunni Arab-majority areas of Iraq late last year after the arrest of guards of then-finance minister Rafa Al Essawi, an influential Sunni Arab, on terrorism charges.
The arrests were seen by Sunnis as just the latest example of the Shiite-led government targeting one of their leaders.
In December 2011, guards of vice president Tareq Hashemi, another prominent Sunni politician, were arrested and accused of terrorism. He fled Iraq and has since been given multiple death sentences for charges including murder.
The demonstrations have tapped into long-standing Sunni grievances, who say they are both marginalised by the government and unfairly targeted with heavy-handed tactics by security forces.
Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, a Shiite, said on December 22 that the protest site near Ramadi had become “a headquarters for the leadership of Al Qaeda”, and gave those unaffiliated with the group a “very short period” to leave before security forces move in.
Sunni discontent has been a key factor in the sharp surge in violence in Iraq this year.
But while the government has made some concessions aimed at placating Sunni Arabs, including freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of anti-Al Qaeda fighters, underlying issues remain unaddressed.
The last major security operation at a protest site, near the northern town of Hawijah on April 23, sparked clashes that killed dozens of people.
Nationwide death tolls then spiked, reaching a level not seen since 2008 when Iraq was emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings.
The violence continued Saturday, with attacks by suicide bombers and gunmen killing eight people, among them four police and two soldiers, and wounding 11.
More than 6,700 people have been killed this year, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.