Fugitive Saddam deputy lends support to Iraq Sunni protests

Sat Jan 5, 2013 5:15pm EST
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By Raheem Salman

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The most senior member of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's entourage still at large has urged Sunni Muslim anti-government protesters to stand their ground until the Shi'ite prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, is toppled.

Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri heads Saddam's now-banned Baath party, whose leaders fled or went underground after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that overthrew the Sunni strongman and empowered the Shi'ite majority.

Over the past two weeks, tens of thousands of Sunnis, some waving Saddam-era flags, have staged demonstrations in a show of anger against Maliki, whom they accuse of marginalizing their community and monopolizing power.

"The people of Iraq and all its nationalist and Islamic forces support you until the realization of your just demands for the fall of the Safavid-Persian alliance," said Douri, addressing protesters in footage broadcast on the pan-Arab news channel Al Arabiya.

Douri said he was in the Iraqi province of Babil but the authenticity or timing of the video could not be verified.

The Safavid dynasty ruled Shi'ite Iran - which at times also controlled parts of modern-day Iraq - from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

Since Maliki came to office in 2006, Iraq has edged closer to its neighbor, which wields strong influence over several Iraqi Shi'ite parties.

In the video, Douri was surrounded by men in military uniform. He said the Baath leadership was considering launching a campaign to "justly and decisively" punish civilians and soldiers who supported what he described as Iran's "Safavid project" for Iraq.   Continued...

Iraqi Sunni Muslims wave national flags and chant slogans during an anti-government demonstration in Tikrit, 150 km (93 miles) north of Baghdad, January 4, 2013. REUTERS/Bakr al-Azzawi