An armed clash in northern Iraq between security forces and anti-government protesters has left at least 26 people dead. The incident took place at a Sunni camp where demonstrations have been held since January.
Military sources said the exchange of gunfire broke out when Iraqi security forces raided an anti-government demonstration camp in Hawijah, outside the northern city of Kirkuk at around 5 a.m. local time (0200 UTC).
According to news agency Reuters, ensuing clashes left six troops and twenty protesters dead. A further 70 people were reportedly injured.
Army officials said the operation had been aimed at Sunni militants from a group known as the Naqshbandiya Army, and that security forces only opened fire after they were fired upon.
Protesters offered a different account, however, insisting that they were unarmed when the army instigated clashes.
"[Security forces] invaded our sit-in today, burned the tents and opened fire indiscriminately and killed and wounded dozens of protesters," Abdulmalik al-Juburi, a leader of the Hawijah sit-in told news agency AFP.
Sunni Muslims have held weekly demonstrations against Iraq's Shi-ite-led government in several provinces since December. They have demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's, who they claim is responsible of the marginalization of Sunni's in Iraq.
ccp/ipj (AFP, Reuters, AP)