First Published: 2013-01-16

 

Iraq anti-Maliki protests continue unabated

 

Sunni Arab tribesmen have taken over centre of Samarra for weeks to protest against government’s ‘injustices’.

 

Middle East Online

By Guillaume Decamme - SAMARRA, Iraq

The glorify Iraq that date back to the rule of now-executed Saddam

For weeks, Sunni Arab tribesmen have taken over the centre of a city north of Baghdad, all with one goal -- to rail against the "injustices" of Iraq's Shiite-led authorities.

Although protests against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his Shiite-led government have gripped Iraq since December 23, demonstrations in Samarra and surrounding Salaheddin province began relatively late.

But from January 1, the tribes of Samarra, whose influence is considerable, took over Al-Haq Square (Square of the Righteous) and invested in infrastructure that means their rallies now show no sign of petering out.

"We were novices in the art of demonstrating," admitted Naji Abbas al-Mizan, a spokesman for the demonstrators.

Thousands - exclusively men - brave the January cold and huddle together over cups of bitter coffee as loudspeakers blare songs glorifying Iraq that date back to the rule of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

They sleep in tents surrounding a large platform from where speeches are delivered. During the day, children wander around the square as Iraqi flags, including at least one flown during Saddam's rule, flutter in the wind.

The day is marked by the call to prayer at the nearby Al-Razzaq mosque, and the regular arrival of trucks of food. In the evening, microphones are handed to protesters who angrily criticise Maliki for having "insulted" them.

"The government in Baghdad should not exclude us or marginalise us," said Talal Khaled al-Sawi, a tribal leader. "We are denied jobs, we are denied our rights. The government does not investigate when our loved ones disappear, and it wants us to remain silent?"

Haitham al-Haddad, head of the Ashraf tribe in Samarra, said the rallies were being driven by the province's powerful tribes.

"All the tribes of Samarra are participating (in the protests)," said Haddad, wearing a traditional red and white chequered headscarf. "There are 25 tribes from Samarra, and 10 to 15 of their allied tribes."

Iraq's Sunni Arab minority has demonstrated in large numbers since late December, with protests sparked at first by the arrest of at least nine guards of Sunni Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi on terror charges.

They have decried the alleged wrongful arrest of members of their community and claimed the Shiite-led authorities misuse anti-terror laws to target Sunnis.

As time has gone on, their anger has focused on Maliki.

"Maliki has militias!" shouted Ahmed Haza, a young demonstrator who said he had suspended his studies in Ukraine to "stand beside my brothers ... (and) fight against injustice".

"He (Maliki) kills people, he has small armies at his disposal," Haza said. "He has to go!"

Maliki has responded with a carrot and stick approach. He has alternated offers of concessions and threats to direct the security forces to break up the protests -- in particular one rally in Anbar province that has blocked the main highway linking Baghdad to Syria and Jordan for more than three weeks.

Most recently, however, the government released 335 detainees and a top minister apologised for wrongfully holding inmates without charge.

Despite the conciliatory overtures, the rallies at Al-Haq square show little sign of abating, and continue to voice anger over maltreatment of the Sunni Arab minority.

Tribal leaders voiced frustration that their community remains a target of kidnappings and bombings. These occur far more frequently in Sunni areas, and in particular Salaheddin, than in the rest of Iraq.

Protesters and tribal leaders were keen to avoid enflaming sectarian tensions, with memories still fresh of Iraq's brutal communal bloodshed of recent years.

But while powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has forecast an "Iraqi spring" and publicly voiced support for the Sunni demonstrations, rallies in Shiite-majority areas have backed the premier.

"We call on our Shiite brothers in the south to protest, because we are all one people and we want to preserve national unity," said Abu Tareq, a 51-year-old retiree.

"We are all united by blood, and by the ties of Islam."

 

Deadly Sinai attacks force Sisi to cut short overseas trip

New Saudi king announces sweeping cabinet shake-up

UN chief to African leaders: do not 'cling to power'

Libya rivals to join peace talks if held on home soil

British mosques open doors to reach out to citizens

Israel to go ahead with 430 new West Bank settler homes

Israel reduces energy supplies to Palestinians

Syria opposition embassy in Qatar renews passports

Hezbollah sends message to Israel ‘conflict is over’

Women protest against Egypt police after fatal shooting

Libyan airline suspends flights

Iraq government vows to investigate Diyala massacre

MSF withdraws help from two Sudan states

Jordan wants to see proof pilot alive before exchange

US says thousands of Somali children facing starvation

Kuwait online activists arrested 'over Saudi criticism'

Iran, Europe officials to meet Thursday in Istanbul

IS issues new deadline to kill Jordanian pilot if demand not met

Netanyahu warns Hezbollah will pay 'full price'

African Union sees no military solution to Libya crisis

Yemen powerful militia prevents fresh protest in Sanaa

Iran appoints new UN ambassador after US visa refusal

Pentagon confirms US involvement in talks with Yemen Huthis

Hezbollah missiles threaten to spark new war in volatile region

In new website, France warns would-be jihadists: You will die alone

Israel retaliates against Hezbollah attack

Can Iraqis trust their government to rebuild their country?

Sheikh Ali Salman rejects charges as trial opens in Bahrain

Protesters try to storm UN headquarters in Gaza

UN peacekeeper killed in southern Lebanon amid border clash

Kobane in ruins after symbolic blow to jihadists

Jordan bows to IS demand

Hezbollah claims attack on Israeli military convoy

Somali PM proposes new cabinet list

Syria opposition groups, Assad representatives meet in Moscow

Yemen’s Huthis free top presidential aide

French FM urges international cooperation against extremism

Clock ticking towards 24-hour IS deadline to kill hostages

Obama, Saudi king discuss IS fight, Iran

Nine killed in luxury Tripoli hotel attack

Three killed in Tripoli luxury hotel attack

UN harshly criticises Turkey for deterioration of human rights

‘Islamic State’ gives Jordan 24 hours before execution of hostages

Ex-Shebab chief urges others to surrender in first public appearance

Bomb kills and wounds three terrorists in Egypt's Alexandria