Iraqi finance minister announces resignation

Rafi al-Issawi will be first senior Sunni member to leave cabinet after months of anti-government protests.

Iraq protests
The announcement drew cheers from anti-government protesters in the Sunni city of Ramadi [reuters]

Iraq’s finance minister drew cheers from anti-government protesters Friday when he announced that he will resign from the government, further intensifying the country’s political crisis nearly a decade after the US-led invasion.

Finance minister Rafi al-Issawi’s decision to leave marks the first resignation of a senior Sunni member of the Shiite-led government since a wave of anti-government protests began following the December arrest of his bodyguards on suspicion of terrorism-related activities.

Sunnis’ feelings of perceived discrimination by prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government are fueling the anger of demonstrators, who are happy that Issawi ended his association with the Maliki administration.

“I am presenting my resignation in front of you. I do not care about a government that does not respect the Iraqi blood and its people,” Issawi told thousands gathered in the western city of Ramadi, the epicenter of the demonstrations.

The protesters cheered in approval.

The resignation, however, has to be formally endorsed by Maliki, leaving Issawi’s status in government unclear for now.

Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the prime minister, said Maliki would not accept the finance minister’s resignation until a previously undisclosed investigation into alleged “financial and administrative irregularities” is complete. He refused to give further details.

Syrian rocket lands in Iraq

In a separate incident, Iraqi officials said a Russian-made rocket fired from Syria exploded well inside Iraqi territory. The rocket is likely to heighten worries that violence from Syria’s civil war could spill across the border.

Officials said the rocket launched from Syria landed about 40km inside Iraqi territory, near a village in the northwestern province of Ninevah. Abdul Aal al-Obeidi, the mayor of the Iraqi town of Tal Afar, said the Russian-made rocket landed in an open area close to the nearby village of Youz Tapa.

Ninevah governor Atheel al-Nujaifi condemned the rocket attack, and demanded the Iraqi government take whatever measures necessary to protect the Iraqi people from such attacks in the future.

“This attack put the lives of our people at risk and we hope that the launching of this rocket was not a deliberate act,” he said.

There were conflicting reports on the type of rocket that was fired, with some officials saying it was a Scud and others describing it as a smaller Grad. No casualties or damage was reported.

Iraqi officials have repeatedly warned that Iraq could suffer as Syria’s security deteriorates.

In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Maliki predicted that a victory for rebels in the Syrian civil war would create a new extremist haven and destabilize the wider Middle East, sparking sectarian wars in his own country and in Lebanon.

Earlier Friday, two car bombs struck a livestock market south of the Iraqi capital, killing five and wounding dozens in what was the second such attack in as many days.

The twin bombing targeted the market in the Shiite city of Diawaniyah, 130km south of Baghdad, at the height of trading when many people pour into the market at the start of the weekend.

Source: AP