Sunni protests intensify in Iraq against Maliki

Iraqi troops fire in the air to disperse Sunni protesters, as 2-week-old protests against Shi'ite government gathers steam.

January 7, 2013 23:26
4 minute read.
IRAQI SUNNIS wave national flags, Dec. 31, 2012

IRAQI SUNNIS wave national flags 370. (photo credit: Ali al-Mashhadani/Reuters)


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Iraqi troops fired in the air to disperse Sunni protesters on Monday, as the two-week-old protests gathered steam.

The protesters are allying themselves with foreign allies among the Sunni Arab states, mostly in Jordan, Turkey, and the Gulf.

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Islamists, who are demanding a Sunni autonomous region similar to that of the northern Kurdish region, dominate the protests, while events in Syria are affecting events in Iraq.

Iraqi street protests, gaining energy or perhaps even inspiration from the Sunni-led rebel uprising in neighboring Syria, are putting pressure on Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. In the northern city of Mosul, Iraqi troops fired shots over the heads of hundreds of protesters, and in the Sunni province of Anbar at least 5,000 protesters had gathered.

In response, Maliki has said that he would not tolerate protests indefinitely and gave a speech on Sunday where he said that the protests were a “foreign plot,” according to reports from the albawaba website.

Iran’s Press TV recently quoted Maliki claiming that al-Qaida terrorists and Ba’ath party members from the former regime are trying to spark violence.

Maliki’s “foreign plot” most likely refers to the Sunni Arab countries in Jordan, Turkey and the Gulf.

According to the Egyptian Al-Ahram Weekly, “Turkey has headed the list of countries accused of meddling in order to destabilize Iraq. On Sunday, Maliki accused Turkey of encouraging Iraqi Kurds to secede from Iraq.”

The article also states that Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also coordinating their actions in Iraq with Turkey.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan said last week that “extremist Shi’a authorities are ruling Iraq.”

The weekly also reported that a member of the Saudi royal family stated in an article published last week that “Iranian intervention is tearing Iraq apart and endangering the countries around it.”

The paper quoted Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and ex-ambassador to the US and Britain, as stating, “Western and Iranian support for Nuri al-Maliki’s government, which is controlled by Iran’s Basij militia, must be withdrawn, enabling the Iraqi people to determine freely their own destiny.”

The report also notes that Qatar is working to stoke the flames using its Al-Jazeera television station. Thus, many of the Sunni countries see the conflict in Iraq as a proxy battle with Shi’a Iran.

Prof. Meir Litvak of the Department of Middle Eastern History and the Director for the Alliance Center of Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University says that the Sunnis are emboldened by the Syrian rebels in Iraq, and that “many of the jihadis in Iraq probably moved to Syria, and once Assad falls will probably return to Iraq.”

Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, writing in Sunday’s London-based Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat writes that Maliki’s main concern is to hold onto power and that he is acting like Saddam Hussein. He goes on to state, “Al-Maliki will be ousted, but only after he destroys Iraq in a manner similar to al-Assad in Syria.

The Islamist led Sunni protesters, some waving Saddam- era Iraqi flags, have blocked a highway to Syria since late December and called for the toppling of Maliki in “Arab Spring" - like protests. These events came after Maliki’s forces arrested bodyguards of Sunni Finance Minister Rafaie al-Esawi. The protesters see Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government as their adversary and see it as being allied with Shi’ite-led Iran.

Jamal Adham, a tribal leader from Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit said, “We will never relent. Enough of Sunnis living in Iraq like outsiders. This time it’s do or die for us.”

Reuters quotes senior Sunni sources as saying that the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), which is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, are dominating the protest campaign to create an autonomous Sunni area.

“Sunnism is our slogan and a region is our goal,” senior cleric Sheikh Taha Hamed al-Dulaimi told demonstrators in Anbar in a video on his website.

On Saturday, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the most senior member of Saddam Hussein’s government still at large, told protesters to continue until Maliki falls. He referred to Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government as the Safavid- Persian alliance, which controlled Iran and parts of Iraq from the 16th to 18th centuries.

“It is a clear plan to destroy Iraq and annex it to Iran,” he said. “We warn those traitors, agents and spies... who support the dangerous project...

that the national resistance will confront them before Maliki and his evil alliance.”

In the meantime, Sunni leaders are trying to create a federal region, which according to the Iraqi constitution can be established by a referendum.

Surprisingly, Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of an opposing Shi’ite faction, came out in support of the protests. Litvak thinks that this is because “Sadr is a political rival of Maliki and feels that Maliki has become a dictator.” Sadr also remembers when Maliki cracked down on his forces.

Meanwhile, Sunni Arab countries are showing their support for the Sunni-led protests. On Saturday, Saudi Arabia warned Iraq that the country “will not stabilize until it starts handling issues without sectarian extremism,” stated Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

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