Attackers disguised in military uniforms killed seven anti-al-Qaida militiamen in Iraq early on Friday as anti-government protests once again raged in Iraq's Sunni provinces.
The militiamen, members of the Sahwa group, were killed outside the town of Tuz Khormato, about 210 kilometers (130 miles) north Baghdad. Police said they were lured to a checkpoint where gunmen overpowered them, tied them up and executed each with a gunshot to the head.
Sahwa joined forces with U.S. troops to fight al-Qaida during the Iraq war. Ever since then, it has been a target for Sunni insurgents who consider its members to be traitors.
Elsewhere, in a northern suburb of Baghdad, a car bomb killed one civilian bystander and wounded three policemen when it hit a police convoy, police said. Hospital officials confirmed the casualties. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief reporters.
The killings happened hours before tens of thousands of Sunnis rallied in several cities to complain about perceived discrimination by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
They renewed threats to march on the capital if the government continues to ignore their demands, echoing comments a prominent sheik, Ahmed Abu Risha, made to The Associated Press earlier this week.
"The people urged you (the government) to end the injustice and the discrimination, but we've only seen negligence and heard empty promises," Sunni cleric Mohammed Taha told the thousands-strong crowd at Friday prayers in the city of Samarra.
Taha's speech was interrupted several times by protesters who chanted "Baghdad we are coming to you" and "Baghdad will be returned to its people."
Organizers considered holding mass prayers in the capital last week but later backed off after government forces sealed off approaches to the city.
In the western cities of Fallujah and Ramadi — former insurgent strongholds — demonstrators as in past weeks poured onto the main highway to preform Friday noon prayers. In Mosul, thousands gathered in the northern city's main square.
For the past two months, Sunni Muslims have been protesting what they describe as unfair treatment by the country's Shiite-led government, extending concerns over rising sectarian tension in the country.