BAGHDAD (AP) — Bodyguards for a senior Iraqi Sunni politician opened fire to disperse angry anti-government demonstrators and two people were wounded in the country's west, where Sunnis angry over their perceived second-class treatment by the country's Shiite-led government have been protesting for over a week, a local official said.
The shooting happened near the city of Ramadi during a visit by Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, according to Anbar provincial council member Talib Hamadi al-Dulaimi.
It was unclear if the gunshot wounds were caused by intentional fire or happened accidentally. It is often difficult to assign blame for gunfire injuries in Iraq, where weapons ownership is common and security forces and others often shoot into the air to break up scuffles.
Al-Mutlaq is one of the government's most senior Sunni politicians, and despite his post he has been a frequent critic of the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Although his visit was not announced in advance, he likely would have expected to find a sympathetic crowd in Anbar.
At one point during his visit, a dispute broke out and shots were fired after demonstrators insisted the Sunni official show support for their protest by submitting his resignation from the government.
In local TV footage of the incident, gunfire rang out and protesters threw rocks at the entourage as it left the area. One of the protesters shouted "Kick him out!" Another yelled, "They took the coward in a taxi."
Al-Mutlaq's office had no immediate comment.
On Friday, tens of thousands of protesters took to the street for rallies near Ramadi and other Sunni-dominated cities, the largest in a week of rallies. The demonstrations follow the arrest earlier this month of 10 bodyguards assigned to the Sunni finance minister, Rafia al-Issawi.
Although the arrests triggered the demonstrations, the protesters' demands tap into deeper Sunni grievances of perceived discrimination by the Shiite-led government.
Vast Anbar province was once the heart of the deadly Sunni insurgency that emerged after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Al-Qaida is believed to be rebuilding in pockets of Anbar, and militants linked to it are thought to be helping Sunni rebels in Syria.