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Iraq on Verge of Major Unrest as Sunnis Protest Their Treatment

A year after the U.S. troops left Iraq, sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shi’ites is threatening to plunge the nation into a drawn-out civil war.

Iraqi Sunnis have taken to the street by the thousands to protest their treatment by the government, which they accuse of marginalizing them—the third protest in less than a week.

Iraq observers are concerned that any fragile stability in the nation is in danger of being lost.

The event that seems to have ignited the protests was the arrest of Iraq Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi’s 10 bodyguards. Since Issawi is one of the government’s top Sunni officials, Sunnis believe the arrests were politically motivated. The protesters fanned out near the provincial capital of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, and along a road linking Baghdad with neighbouring Jordan and Syria. They held banners with such sayings as “We warn the government not to draw the country into sectarian conflict” and “We are not a minority.”

Issawi appeared at the rally in a long convoy of black SUVs protected by heavily armed guards. He condemned last week’s raid on his office and produced a long list a series of grievances aimed at the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, a Shia, and his government.

“Injustice, marginalisation, discrimination and double standards, as well as the politicisation of the judicial system and a lack of respect for partnership, law and constitution … have all turned our neighbourhoods in Baghdad into huge prisons surrounded by concrete blocks,” he said.

Many Sunnis see the arrest of Issawi’s guards as the latest in a series of moves by Maliki against their community and other perceived political opponents, but Maliki has said the arrests were legal, based on warrants issued by judicial authorities.

Maliki also warned the country to avoid a return to sectarian strife.

Maliki has dismissed the attacks on his as political posturing in advance of elections scheduled for April. He warned his opponents not to forget the dark days of sectarian fighting “when we used to collect bodies and chopped heads from the streets.”

 

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