RAMADI, Iraq - Iraq's finance minister resigned on Friday in front of crowds of Sunni Muslim protesters who have rallied daily against the Shi'ite-led government for more than two months, demanding an end to marginalization of their minority sect.
The country's precarious sectarian balance has come under growing strain as Iraq Sunnis vent frustrations that have built up since the US-led invasion of 2003 overthrew Saddam Hussein and empowered majority Shi'ites through the ballot box.
"I came today in order to announce my resignation from this government in front of you," Rafaie Al-Esawi, also a Sunni, told a crowd of protesters from a stage in Iraq's western province of Anbar, on the border with Syria.
The demonstrations in the country's Sunni heartland are fueling concerns the increasingly sectarian conflict in neighboring Syria will push Iraq back towards the bloody Sunni-Shi'ite strife of 2006-2007.
It was Maliki's arrest of Esawi's bodyguards that ignited the protests in the first place last December.