Iraqi troops shot dead at least four people during clashes with Sunni Muslim protesters in Falluja on Friday (January 25), in escalating unrest against Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
A Reuters witness said troops initially fired in the air to disperse crowds, but then he saw some soldiers fire towards protesters who had approached their military vehicles and set one of them on fire.
Thousands of Sunnis have taken to the streets to protest against mistreatment of their minority sect since late December, increasing concerns that Iraq could slide back into widespread sectarian confrontation.
Friday's violence complicates Maliki's attempts to end the protests, where demands range from amendment of terrorism laws that many Sunnis feel single them out to more radical calls for the Shi'ite leader to step down.
After thousands gathered for Friday prayers in Falluja, a mostly Sunni city 30 miles (50 km) north of the capital, clashes broke out when troops arrested three protesters and others tried to block a major highway, officials said.
A hospital source told Reuters that a final count shows that six people were killed and 52 wounded. He said at least four had died from gunshot wounds, but it was not clear how the other two people had died.
Vision from the scene showed demonstrators approaching army vehicles and throwing stones and water bottles, while troops tried to keep them away by firing in the air. Soldiers could also be seen aiming their rifles at demonstrators.
A year after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, sectarian tensions are still raw in Iraq, where many lived through Shi'ite-against-Sunni bloodletting that killed tens of thousands a few years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Since the fall of the Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein a decade ago, many Iraqi Sunnis feel they have been sidelined by the Shi'ite leadership and believe Maliki is amassing power at their community's expense.
Video Source: Reuters