Al Qaeda calls on Iraqi Sunni protesters to take up arms
By Patrick Markey and Aseel Kami
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Al Qaeda's Iraqi wing on Thursday urged Sunni protesters to take up arms against Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, adding fuel to growing sectarian unrest in the world's fastest-growing oil exporter.
Al Qaeda's local affiliate Islamic State of Iraq said "peace and patience" were useless for dealing with the Shi'ite-led government they see as oppressors of Iraq's Sunni minority.
"You have two options, not three: either kneel before the apostates, though that will be impossible, or to take up arms," Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the group's spokesman said in an audio statement posted on a jihadist website.
Thousands of Sunni Muslims have rallied mostly in the western province of Anbar since December over frustrations they have been sidelined since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Maliki says he will address legitimate demands, but warned against militants hijacking protests, heightening concern the OPEC nation risks worsening Shi'ite against Sunni confrontation.
Weakened by war with U.S. and Iraqi troops, Islamic State of Iraq last year vowed to retake ground lost to the government.
With Sunni Islamist militants flowing into neighbouring Syria to battle President Bashar al-Assad, security experts say al Qaeda is gaining funds, recruits and morale on both sides of the border, after years of losses.
Assad, whose ruling minority sect is a distant offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, is closely allied to Iran. The mostly Sunni rebel battle against his rule has started to threaten to upset Iraq's own fragile sectarian and ethnic balance. Continued...