Iraq: Sectarian Tensions Still High As Sunni Demonstrators Refuse To Be Silenced

Protesters Demanding the Release of Detainees Throw Stones At Military Patrol Trying To Disperse Them

In Anbar province, protesters demanding the release of four detainees became outraged when a military patrol tried to disperse them. The protesters were demanding the release of four men who were arrested following a deadly attack on Shi’ite pilgrims last week. When the patrol tried to stop the demonstration, which took place in Rutba, the protesters threw stones at them. A local council leader intervened before the squabble escalated beyond a few fistfights. The protesters said they would continue to hold sit-ins until the four suspects are released.

The four were arrested during a controversial raid that took place last week, after 22 Shi’ite pilgrims were killed near the Anbar town of Nukheib on Monday. There, uniformed gunmen at a fake checkpoint halted a bus carrying Shi’ite pilgrims from neighboring Karbala province to Syria. They spared the women, children and an elderly man, but murdered 22 other men.

Following the attack, a military unit from Karbala conducted a raid in Rutba and arrested between eight and 20 suspects, including Sunni clergymen. Local authorities in Anbar, which is predominantly Sunni, denounced the unusual operation as a sectarian kidnapping and demanded the release of all suspects. To quash the rising tensions, all but four suspects were released. Baghdad officials admitted there is no evidence tying the remaining four to the massacre either but claim they are wanted for other crimes.

With no actual suspects in custody Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s military chief of staff now says that Arab foreigners from several countries were behind the massacre but declined to name any countries involved.