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Iraq: 36 dead after raid on Sunni protest site

By Sinan Salaheddin

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, April 23 2013 10:38 a.m. MDT

The raid occurred four days after a checkpoint jointly run by the police and army near Hawija came under attack, and militants seized a number of weapons before retreating into the crowd of protesters, according to the Defense Ministry.

That led to a standoff with security forces, at times, trying to negotiate with local and tribal officials the handover of those involved in the raid.

The Defense Ministry said it warned demonstrators to leave the protest area before moving in early Tuesday, and that large numbers of protesters left the site. As Iraqi forces tried to make arrests, they came under heavy fire from several types of weapons and were targeted by snipers, according to the Defense Ministry account.

Security forces detained 75 people and seized multiple weapons, including machine guns, hand grenades, knives, daggers and swords, the ministry said.

Iraq's Interior Ministry spokesman, Lt. Col. Saad Maan Ibrahim, said the security forces were backed by helicopters, but no airstrikes occurred.

Protests against the Shiite-dominated government began in western Iraq in December following the arrest of bodyguards assigned to Sunni Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi. The rallies quickly spread to other areas that are home to Iraq's minority Sunni Arabs, including Hawija.

Demonstrators are protesting alleged discrimination by the government, including the application of a tough anti-terrorism law that they believe unfairly targets their sect.

The protests have been largely peaceful, though there have been occasional incidents of violence. In January, at least five protesters were killed in clashes with security forces in Fallujah.

The violence comes three days after Iraqis in much of the country cast ballots for provincial officials. Voting was delayed in Anbar and Ninevah provinces, which have faced large protests, because of what the government said were concerns about security.

The Cabinet announced Tuesday that voting is now scheduled in those provinces for July 4.

Also Tuesday, two bombs went off near a Sunni mosque in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora, killing seven worshippers and wounding 17, police and health officials said. The worshippers were leaving the mosque after morning prayers at around 5:00 a.m. when the bombs exploded simultaneously, two police officers said.

A medical official confirmed the causality figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed reporting. Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at http://twitter.com/adamschreck and Sinan Salaheddin at http://twitter.com/sinansm

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