Maliki under fire as Iraq violence continues

Deadly attacks come as Iraqi prime minister tries to head off defections that threaten his government.

Several car bombs have hit Shia neighbourhoods in Iraq’s capital Baghdad killing at least five people, bringing to 23 the number of people killed in the last 24 hours.

The series of bombings on Tuesday come as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the army to leave Anbar province, in order to defuse Sunni unrest and appease parliament members, who threatened to withdraw from his government.

“I call upon politicians to adopt wise stances and not emotional ones away from any move that could help al-Qaeda, terrorists and sectarian partisans,” Maliki said in a statement.

Maliki also said the Iraqi army will hand over control of cities in Anbar province to the local police, a main demand from Sunni politicians who see the army as Maliki’s effort to target rivals and consolidate power.

More than 40 Sunni lawmakers submitted their resignations from parliament, and Sunni ministers threatened to withdraw from the Cabinet over the unrest.

Tariq Hashemi, Iraq’s exiled Sunni vice president, has also resigned in protest, and called on the government of Saudi Arabia for help.

“Enough is enough,” Hashemi told Al Jazeera. “Everyone has a cause, but we face two main problems. We lack a unifying project and a country that supports our cause.”

On Monday, seven gunmen and three police officers were killed in clashes, as security forces took down tents and cleared a Sunni sit-in in its provincial capital, Ramadi.

Sunnis have been staging protests since last December against what they consider as second-class treatment by the Shia-led government, and against tough anti-terrorism measures they claimed are aimed at their sect.

The government and some tribal leaders in Anbar accused the protesters of offering shelter for al-Qaeda local branch to recruit people and plan for attacks.

Unrest in Anbar

The unrest in Anbar followed the weekend arrest of a Sunni politician, Ahmed al-Alwani, who has been prominent among the organisers of the protests.

Alwani is sought on terrorism charges for inciting violence against Shia who came to power after the 2003 US-led invasion that ended Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led regime.

His brother, five guards and two troops were killed in exchange of fire with security forces when his entourage resisted the arrest.

At the same time, government forces have waged an offensive this month to hunt down al-Qaeda fighters in the deserts of Anbar in a bid to stem the violence that has been on rise since the beginning of this year.

More than 8,000 people have been killed in Iraq the past year, according to UN estimates.

The moves in Anbar raise risks of an increased backlash by Iraq’s Sunni minority.

The Iraq branch of al-Qaeda, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, issued a statement Tuesday vowing solidarity with Anbar’s Sunnis.

“We and the people of Anbar are standing as a solid block against the wolves trying to move forward,” it said. “The people of Anbar will not accept humiliation.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies