BAQUBA, Iraq (AFP) — Hundreds of members of an anti-Al-Qaeda front in Iraq's central city of Baquba on Friday donned keffiyeh headdresses and took to the streets demanding the police chief be sacked, witnesses said.
Fighters ran militia-style through two neighbourhoods in the capital of Diyala province, ordering shops to shut and people to stay indoors, prompting police to declare a curfew, an AFP correspondent said.
The action came after demands by the group earlier in the week that police chief Major General Ghanim al-Quraishi be sacked were ignored.
"Despite our efforts and the blood we shed in order to expel Al-Qaeda members from Diyala, we received no help from the government or the police," said Haji Basim al-Karkhi, who is in charge of the "popular committees."
"The police chief committed violations such as abducting Sunnis in front of the Diyala police headquarters," said Karkhi. "He also does not accept Sunni recruits."
There was no immediate comment from the police chief, but another officer, Lieutenant Colonel Suhail Ibrahim, said the matter was a personal one between Quraishi and the popular committees.
"There has been a disagreement between the police chief and the popular committees. It is a personal matter and the police have nothing to do with it," he said.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government has frequently expressed reservations about the anti-Qaeda fronts being formed by the US military, fearing that they may become new militias.
The "popular committees" -- also termed "Awakening" or most recently "Sons of Iraq" groups -- are comprised mainly of Sunni former insurgents who have been battling Al-Qaeda in Iraq with the support of the US military for more than a year.
According to latest American military figures, there are 130 such groups with a total membership of around 80,000 across Iraq.
They are on the US military payroll and are credited with having helped bring about a 62 percent fall in the number of attacks across the insurgency-wracked country since June last year.
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