BAGHDAD — Iraqi insurgents are trying to capitalize on the rage of anti-government protesters and the instability caused by rising civil unrest, complicating the government’s efforts to stamp out a resurgent al-Qaida and other militants.
Organizers of the protests attracting minority Iraqi Sunnis insist they have no links to terrorist groups. Yet Iraqi and U.S. officials have expressed concern that violent extremists could benefit from the demonstrators’ feelings of alienation and hostility toward the Shiite-led Iraqi government.
And tensions are rising.
At least five protesters were killed and more than 20 were wounded on Friday when soldiers opened fire at stone-hurling demonstrators near Fallujah, a former al-Qaida stronghold where tens of thousands took to the streets. Some in the crowd waved black banners emblazoned with the Muslim confession of faith.
They were the first deaths at opposition rallies that have been raging around the country for more than a month. Two soldiers were later killed in an apparent retaliatory attack.