First Published: 2013-01-05


Same scenario repeats itself in Iraq: Real anger in front, Islamists in background


Thousands of Sunnis demonstrate across Iraq, in latest of nearly two weeks of rallies criticising country's premier.


Middle East Online

By Nafia Abduljabbar - BAGHDAD

Iraq version of Arab Spring may be most violent

Thousands of Sunnis demonstrated across Iraq on Friday, in the latest of nearly two weeks of rallies criticising the country's premier and demanding the release of prisoners they say are wrongfully held.

The protests, which come amid a political deadlock between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government and a secular Sunni-backed party that is in his cabinet but publicly opposes him, have blocked off a key trade route and forced heavy security measures.

The demonstrations have been given a cross-sectarian boost in recent days thanks to public displays of support by powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who joined in Friday prayers at a major Sunni mosque in Baghdad, symbolically backing rallies against a premier with whom he has often clashed.

Demonstrators gathered at the Abu Hanifa mosque in the mostly-Sunni neighbourhood of Adhamiyah, but were barred by security forces from leaving the compound to rally on the street, a correspondent said.

The protesters held up banners calling for a mass prisoner release, stronger human rights provisions in Iraq's prisons, and a repeal of current anti-terror legislation.

They have called for the release of prisoners they say were detained because of their Sunni background, and an end to the alleged misuse of anti-terror legislation by the Shiite-led authorities against their community.

"Baghdad, free, free! Iran, go away!" they shouted, a reference to their belief that Maliki's government is beholden to Iraq's Shiite neighbour Iran.

"How much longer will our children stay in prisons for no other reason than being Sunni," asked a man who gave his name as Abu Abdullah.

Another protester who identified herself as Umm Mohammed said: "My three children were arrested four years ago for no reason and I ask Maliki -- release them."

Meanwhile Sadr, whose movement counts 40 lawmakers and five ministers among its supporters, attended Friday prayers at the Abdul Qader Gilani mosque, a prominent Sunni mosque in Baghdad.

Large-scale protests also took place in several cities north of Baghdad in Salaheddin, Diyala, Kirkuk, and Nineveh provinces, while demonstrators in western Anbar province continued to block off a highway linking Iraq to Syria and Jordan for a 12th successive day.

"We are demonstrating to support the protesters in Fallujah, Mosul, Samarra and other Iraqi cities," said Ismail al-Hudaidi, a protest organiser in Kirkuk's eponymous provincial capital.

Sheikh Ahmed Samarraie, imam of a mosque in Kirkuk city, added: "We are protesting to simply say: no to injustice, and yes to the release of innocent prisoners."

On Thursday, the justice ministry said 11 female prisoners had been released and 13 others had been transferred to jails in their home provinces, two days after Maliki offered to push for the release of hundreds of female detainees in a bid to fulfil one of the protesters' demands.

The premier on Friday called for protesters and security forces to act with restraint, after earlier this week warning demonstrators that the state could intervene to end rallies.

The protests began on December 23, and were sparked by the arrest of at least nine guards of Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi, a Sunni Arab and a leading member of the secular Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, which is part of Maliki's unity government but frequently criticises him in public.


‘Islamic State’ claims series of deadly attacks in Yemen

Opening of Baghdad’s Green Zone to public worries US

NATO accuses Russia of violating Turkey airspace

Russia has created ‘de facto no-fly zone’ for Assad

Halal economy set to grow worldwide

Russia hints at willingness on Syria 'deconfliction' with US

France may strip five terrorists of nationality

Israel demolition policy: Collective punishment in violation of international law

Violence in Yemen may trigger world's next great refugee crisis

EU to 'step up' work on resettlement of refugees from Turkey

Tunisia dismantles three ISIS recruitment cells

Russia not cooperating with US in Syria safety talks

Recent unrest leaves Netanyahu with tough political choices

Unpaid teachers in Iraq Kurdistan go on strike to end ‘farce’

Erdogan warns Russia not to destroy friendship with Turkey

Arab coalition troops among 15 killed in Yemen attacks

Is pro-Sisi parliament a given?

NATO warns Russia airspace violations risk inflaming tensions

Turkey urges EU to do more to topple Assad

Iran threatens boycott Frankfurt Book Fair over Rushdie’s invite

Libya rival factions resume peace talks in Morocco

Yemen PM escapes unharmed in Aden rocket attack

UK top counter-terrorism official accuses social media of 'undermining' investigations

Lebanon lawmakers nearly come to blows in televised meeting

Gulf Arab forces take back strategic island in Yemen

Yemeni forces besiege rebels after capturing key strait

US shows laxity in enforcement of Iran arms embargo

Turkey warns Russia over air space violations

Russia gets new warning from Pentagon as tensions simmer over Syria

Arab states silent on Russian intervention in Syria

Assault on Egyptian waiter in Jordan draws public outrage

Syria rebel factions call for new coalition to combat Assad and allies

Germany voices doubt over Russian operations in Syria

Iraq militia leader casts doubt on US seriousness about fight against ISIS

Russia jets hit nine ISIS targets in Syria over past 24 hours

Bodies of 85 migrants washed ashore in Libya

Israeli army shoots dead Palestinian teen near Bethlehem

Russia TV takes Syria coverage to new level: Perfect weather for ISIS bombing!

Netanyahu pledges 'fight to the death' as clashes spread

IS destroys Arch of Triumph in Syria's Palmyra

French FM: Syria air strikes must target all 'groups considered as terrorists'

Israeli carries out air raid Gaza after rocket attack

Tunisia joins anti-ISIS coalition to ‘obtain information’

ISIS gunmen shoot dead two Egypt policemen in Sinai

Trump prefers to 'sit back' and see what happens in Syria