[QODLink]
Middle East

Iraqi PM questions role of Turkey in unrest

Nouri al-Maliki says Ankara and Syrian rebels may have hand in stoking strife in his country as Sunni protests continue.
Last Modified: 31 Dec 2012 17:20

Iraq’s prime minister has questioned the role of Turkey and Syrian rebels in stoking unrest, as Sunni protesters in the country continued to demand the release of prisoners held by the Shia-led government.

Nouri al-Maliki, in a televised interview, said on Sunday evening that the protests had "a sectarian dimensions and extension".

"We may have differences with one another but what relation does [Turkish Prime Minister] Erdogan have in this? Why is his poster lifted? This is an indication of support and we don’t need to accuse anyone," Maliki told al-Sumariya TV.

"Why is the flag of the Free Syrian Army raised and what relation does it have with the demands of people? Why are the posters of Islamic state in Iraq lifted in the protests?"

Protests blocking a key highway linking Iraq to Syria and Jordan entered a tenth day on Monday and authorities north of Baghdad declared general strikes a day earlier.

The protests were sparked by the arrest on December 20 of bodyguards of Iraq's finance minister, a Sunni, and have spurred allegations that the government was using anti-terror legislation to target the Sunni minority.

Iraqi authorities on Monday called for an end to what a senior official said were illegal and illegitimate protest rallies in Sunni-majority provinces including Salaheddin, Nineveh and Anbar.

A statement posted on the website of Ali al-Alaak, cabinet secretary general, acknowledged that the constitution guaranteed freedom of expression, assembly and dissent, but added that such freedoms must be practised "in a way that does not oppose public order".

"These should not be carried out without the knowledge of authorities and their permission," it said. "What is happening now... is breaking the law and the constitution."

'Rogue elements'

On Sunday, the bodyguards for Iraq's deputy prime minister wounded two people when they fired warning shots at protesters who pelted his convoy with bottles and stones, witnesses said.

The incident took place in the city of Ramadi in the western province of Anbar, to where Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq had travelled to address people in an attempt to defuse sectarian tensions.

In a statement following the incident, Mutlaq said some "rogue elements" at the protest had tried to kill him.

"Upon the deputy prime minister's arrival, the protesters greeted him with great warmth ... but some rogue elements which seek to divert the protesters from their legitimate demands carried out a cowardly assassination attempt against Doctor Mutlaq," it read.

Follow in-depth coverage of the nation in flux

Protesters are demanding an end to what they see as the marginalisation of Iraq's Sunni minority, which dominated the country until the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled the then president Saddam Hussein.

Echoing slogans used in popular revolts that brought down leaders in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Yemen, protesters have also called on Maliki to step down.

"Is this the way to deal with peaceful protesters? To shoot them? This is really outrageous," said protester Ghazwan al-Fahdawi, displaying empty bullet casings from shots he said had been fired by Mutlaq's guards.

In the northern city of Mosul, the provincial council on Sunday called a three-day strike to press Baghdad to release women prisoners and stop targeting Sunni politicians.

The Arab League described recent developments as "worrying" and called for dialogue in a statement released on Friday.

A year after US troops left, sectarian friction, as well as tension over land and oil between Arabs and ethnic Kurds, threaten renewed unrest and are hampering efforts to repair the damage of years of violence and exploit Iraq's energy riches.

600

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
Featured
About 500,000 participated around the globe in the Peoples Climate March, and Al Jazeera spoke to some in New York.
Separatist movements in Spain, Belgium and Italy may face headwinds following Scotland's decision to stay in the UK.
A fishing trawler carrying 500 migrants across the Mediterranean was rammed by another boat, causing hundreds to drown.
Anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party - with roots in the neo-Nazi movement - recently won 12.9 percent of the vote.
Palestinian doctor who lost three daughters in previous Gaza war is fighting to bring 100 wounded kids to Canada.