‘‘Middle Eastern armies are very bad at crowd control. ... The Iraqi army is really poorly disciplined. It has a real weakness with non-commissioned officers, like you'd have on those checkpoints,’’ he said.
The clashes occurred as tens of thousands of demonstrators filled a major highway nearby, repeating a scene that has become common in areas across Anbar around midday Friday prayers.
Smaller rallies have been held in other predominantly Sunni parts of the country, and thousands of protesters have staged an ongoing sit-in along a highway connecting Baghdad to Jordan and Syria.
Sunni cleric Mohammed al-Dulaimi, who led the prayers at the Fallujah protest, urged demonstrators to show restraint and avoid further friction with the soldiers.
In his speech, he also accused al-Maliki’s government of adopting policies that could divide the country.
‘‘I tell the prime minister that he should stop neglecting our demands and stop violating our rights. ... Otherwise, the volcano will erupt,’’ he said.
The wave of rallies in Iraq has been largely free of violence until Friday, though at least two demonstrators were wounded in Anbar last month when bodyguards and security forces protecting Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq opened fire to disperse angry crowds.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed reporting.
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