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Middle East

Iraq finance minister escapes bomb attack

Roadside bomb explodes near convoy carrying Sunni minister who has been a central figure in anti-government protests.
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2013 21:43
[EPA]

Iraq's finance minister, who has been locked in dispute with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has escaped an apparent assassination attempt when his convoy was struck by a roadside bomb, his office and security sources say.

Rafa al-Essawi's convoy had been travelling between the towns of Fallujah and Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, when the bomb went off at around 7pm local time (16:00 GMT) on Sunday, the officials said.

"A roadside bomb exploded near his convoy. His car was not hit and he is safe, but two guards were wounded," a spokesman for Essawi's office said.

Police sources confirmed the convoy had been hit by shrapnel, but said there had been no injuries.

The blast comes amid a political crisis between the Shia prime minister and his mainly Sunni coalition partners in the federal government.

Sunni protests

Essawi has been a central figure in more than two weeks of protests by minority Sunnis against the Shia-dominated Baghdad government after his bodyguards were arrested on terrorism charges. He has publicly called for Maliki to be replaced.

Sunnis have lead protests in the cities of Fallujah, Ramadi and Samara blaming the government of discrimination. Rare demonstrations on the main highway between Iraq and Syria have caused disruptions.

Earlier this month, Maliki warned demonstrators to stop their protests and ordered the release of more than 700 female prisoners, a key demand of the demonstrators.

The protests come with barely three months to go before provincial elections, a key barometer of support for Maliki and his opponents ahead of a general election next year.

Essawi is a leading member of the Iraqiya bloc, which, while a member of Maliki's unity government, has called for him to quit.

Sunnis have also decried alleged misuse of anti-terror laws to hold members of the minority community, and claim Sunnis are being targeted.

Former vice-president Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni, was handed down a death sentence in absentia on charges of running a death squad, a charge he denounced.

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Source:
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