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.


Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

IS controls Damascus district in surprise attack

Pro-Turkish forces loot Afrin

Iraqis flock to flea market for relics of bygone era

Erdogan tells US to stop ‘deceiving’, start helping on Syria

UN says Turkey security measures 'curtail human rights'

French ex-president held over Libya financing allegations

NGO says Israeli army violating Palestinian minors’ rights

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed

Turkey insists no plans to remain in Afrin

Cairo voters show unwavering support for native son Sisi

Forum in Jordan explores new teaching techniques

Gaza Strip woes receive renewed attention but no fix is expected

Kurds, Syrian opposition condemn Afrin looting

36 jihadists killed in Egypt’s Sinai

Israel arrests French consulate worker for gun smuggling

Israel prepares to demolish Jerusalem attacker's home

Saudi crown prince says his country to seek nuclear bomb if Iran does

Arab women artists in diaspora focus on identity and loss

Tunisia’s Central Bank targets inflation but may hurt growth prospects

Libya’s health system reflects a larger humanitarian crisis

Israel blasts Gaza underground tunnel

Abu Dhabi awards France's Total stakes in oil concessions

Erdogan says Afrin city centre under ‘total’ control

Egypt tries to contain Sudan but challenges, suspicions remain

US defence secretary presses Oman on Iran weapons smuggling

Syrian regime retakes two towns from Ghouta rebels

Hamas shutters mobile firm after Gaza attack on PM

Israel punishes family members of West Bank attacker

Syria opposition says UN 'failed to prevent' Assad 'crimes'

UK tries to soothe Egyptian anger over mob attack death

Hundreds of thousands flee in dual Syria assaults

Turkish Cypriots vow to stand firm in gas dispute

Intensifying assaults in Syria spark dual evacuations

Tearful reunions, uncertain fates for Syrians fleeing Ghouta

Iran deal signatories meet as Trump deadline looms

Thirty years on, Kurds remember Halabja massacre

Air India says will fly over Saudi airspace to Tel Aviv

UN chief calls for end to Lebanese 'meddling' in Syria