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Inside Story

Iraq arrests: A crackdown on opponents?

As Iraq detains a key Sunni leader, we ask if it is a fight against "terrorism" or a move to suppress the opposition.

Last updated: 30 Dec 2013 14:12
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Tensions are running high in Iraq's Anbar province after the arrest of an outspoken member of parliament.

Ahmed al-Alwani, a prominent Sunni lawmaker and supporter of anti-government protests, was arrested on Saturday in Ramadi, an area where opposition to the Iraqi government runs high and where al-Qaeda has gained a foothold.

The raid at his home was violent and clashes left at least five people dead, including Alwani's brother.

Anbar province is huge … There are bound to be some armed groups who may infiltrate that province in order to carry out attacks on the government. That does not mean [the government will] accuse demonstrators and the leaders of demonstrators … particularly the brother of that MP of being violent. Let us not mix two issues together.

Salah Hashimi, a legal adviser to the Iraqi League 

The government said the operation was part of a plan to restore security and target al-Qaeda fighters.

The raid began after an arrest warrant was issued for Alwani - a member of the Iraqiya political party - on terrorism charges.

His detention is likely to inflame sectarian tensions in Iraq where Sunnis say the Shia-led government is discriminating against them.

Anbar is now a flashpoint in Iraq and, over the past year, it has become the centre of anti-government protests.

The largely Sunni crowds claim Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government neglects Sunni provinces and deprives them of basic services. In April, a heavy crackdown on the Anbar sit-ins killed some 50 people.

While protesters remain defiant, Maliki warned on Friday that protests would not be allowed to continue. He believes al-Qaeda has infiltrated the demonstrators.

Reporting from Erbil in northern Iraq, Al Jazeera's Imran Khan said Alwani's arrest was going to enflame tensions in the country.

"The reason for this is that the Sunnis in Anbar province do feel that they have not only been marginalised, but they have also been deliberately targeted by the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad," he said.

"They say that their members have been arrested, they have been placed in secret prisons, that they are harassed on an almost daily basis," our correspondent added.

Levels of violence in Iraq are now at their highest since 2006 and 2007 when tens of thousands of people were killed in sectarian fighting. Many of the near-daily bombings, shootings and suicide attacks in the country have been staged by al-Qaeda fighters.

The UN says more than 8,000 Iraqis have been killed this year, around 950 of them members of the security forces.

So, will there be an end to this volatile situation? Is Maliki’s government really fighting what it calls "terrorism", or is it simply cracking down on Sunni political opponents? 

To discuss this, Inside Story presenter Laura Kyle is joined by guests: Ahmed Rushdi, a political analyst; Salah Hashimi, a legal adviser to the Iraqi League, a UK-based rights group; and Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a former Iraqi national security advisor.

"There will be no fight against al-Qaeda from the people of Anbar because they will say ‘We will be targeted by the government so why we are fighting Qaeda?' People will also say 'Why we are going to participate in the elections when we have MPs who are targeted'?"

Ahmed Rushdi, a political analyst 

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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