BAGHDAD, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- Thousands of Iraqis defied their prime minister by taking part in a so-called day of rage Friday that turned deadly in parts of the country, witnesses said.
Protesters took to the streets across Iraq demanding better basic services and more job opportunities. Many demonstrators who spoke to al-Jazeera stressed they weren't calling for regime change.
Security forces tried to block demonstrators from joining the crowds and there were reports that at least five people were killed when Iraqi forces opened fire on the protesters.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in a plea on national television Thursday, called on protesters to avoid demonstrations Friday. He said it was an opportunity for al-Qaida and other insurgents groups to incite violence. Top clerics, including Moqtada Sadr and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued similar statements before the protests.
Maliki during his speech sought to reassure the public that the job situation and services were improving but blamed shortfalls on militant groups.
Meanwhile, Iraqi defense officials said they killed Al-Nasser Lideen Allah Abu Suleiman, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq. The BBC reports he was allegedly the war minister of the al-Qaida branch, the third person to hold the title since 2010.
Iraqi forces said the U.S. military wasn't involved in the operation in Iraq's western Anbar province.