Iraq PM warns Sunni protesters, makes small concession

Tue Jan 1, 2013 5:53pm EST
 

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's Shi'ite prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has warned he will not tolerate Sunni anti-government rallies indefinitely, but made a concession to their demands by promising to free some women prisoners.

Thousands of Sunnis have been taking to the streets of Iraq for more than a week in protest against Maliki, whom they accuse of discriminating against their sect and being under the sway of their non-Arab Shi'ite neighbor Iran.

The incident has once more threatened to plunge a delicate power-sharing deal into turmoil, just as President Jalal Talabani, a moderating influence, is in Germany for medical care after suffering a stroke.

The cradle of the protests is Anbar province, a Sunni stronghold in western Iraq, where demonstrators are blocking a key highway to Jordan and Syria.

In a televised interview late on Monday, Maliki said there were foreign agendas behind the protests, which he described as "unconstitutional".

"I say to those who follow these agendas: Don't think it's difficult for the government to take measures against you or to re-open the road and put an end to this matter," Maliki said.

"We have been very patient with you, but don't expect this issue to be open-ended."

The protesters are demanding an end to what they see as the marginalization of the Sunni minority, who dominated Iraq until the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.

They want Maliki to abolish anti-terrorism laws that they say he has used to pursue political rivals such as the Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, who fled after being accused of running death squads and was sentenced to death in absentia.   Continued...

 
Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks during the opening ceremony of the Defence University for Military Studies inside Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone June 17, 2012. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani