The attackers stopped a vehicle carrying the soldiers near the protest camp, sparking a gunfight that left the five soldiers dead and two of the attackers wounded, police officials said.
Maliki vowed that his government would not keep silent over the killing of the soldiers. Iraqi officials have repeatedly claimed that insurgent groups, such as al-Qaeda in Iraq and supporters of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, have infiltrated the Sunni demonstrations.
“I call upon the peaceful protesters to expel the criminals targeting military and police,” Maliki said in a statement posted on his official Web site.
Authorities announced a curfew in the entire province of Anbar. They also gave the protest organizers in Ramadi, the provincial capital, a 24-hour deadline to hand over the gunmen responsible for killing the soldiers or face a “firm response,” said Maj. Gen. Mardhi Mishhin al-Mahalawi, the army’s Anbar operations chief.
Members of Iraq’s Muslim Sunni minority have been rallying for the past four months in several Iraqi cities to protest what they describe as unfair treatment by Maliki’s government.
Tensions spiked last week when fighting broke out in the northern town of Hawijah during a security crackdown on a protest encampment. That provoked a series of clashes nationwide that left more than 170 people dead over the past five days.
In Cairo, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood group, from which Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi hails, condemned what it called the Iraqi government’s “violence in dealing with . . . peaceful demonstrators and protesters.”
Morsi’s government has itself come under criticism as scores of Egyptian protesters have been killed or wounded in police crackdowns and street clashes since the Islamist leader was elected last year.
In further violence Saturday in Iraq, gunmen also opened fire on a checkpoint manned by government-allied Sunni fighters, killing five of them, near the city of Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad.
The militiamen, known as Sahwa, are among those who joined forces with U.S. troops to fight al-Qaeda during the Iraq war.
— Associated Press