Nine wounded after Iraq troops clash with Sunni protesters

FALLUJA, Iraq Jan 25 (Reuters) - At least nine people were wounded on Friday when Iraqi troops opened fire in the air during clashes with Sunni protesters rallying against Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, officials and witnesses said.

Thousands of Sunni protesters have taken to the streets in western Anbar province since late December in a major challenge to Maliki's fragile government, split among Shi'ites, Sunnis and ethnic Kurds, a year after the last American troops left.

"We have nine wounded, two were hit by army vehicles and the rest were wounded by gunfire," said a senior local government official who asked not to be identified.

A Reuters witness at the scene said troops fired in the air to disperse protesters.

Friday's clashes in Falluja, a predominantly Sunni city 50 km (30 miles) north of capital, erupted after the army arrested three protesters and clashed with rock-throwing demonstrators trying to block a major highway, authorities said.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the U.S.-led invasion a decade ago, many Iraq Sunnis feel they have been marginalised by the country's Shi'ite leadership and believe Maliki is amassing power at their community's expense. (Reporting by Kamal Naama in Falluja and Suadad al-Salhy in Baghdad; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Alison Williams)