Thousands of protestors consumed the streets and major highways of Fallujah in Iraq as they rally against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government.
The demonstration was the largest of a series of week-long rallies led by the Sunni minority as they band together to put pressure on Maliki and his government, which is led by a Shia majority.
Separate rallies have also taken place in Mosul with protestors accusing the government of unequal treatment and a call for the release of Sunni prisoners. Other locations like Samarra and Tikrit also became a focal point for massive demonstrations with province officials and legislators getting involved and echoing their support.
The protests began after 10 bodyguards belonging to the finance minister – who is one of the few Sunni senior officials in the government – were detained. Protestors are accusing Maliki and his administration of marginalizing the Sunni minority by not equally distributing the power and denying them equal rights and privileges.
The main highway in Ramadi had to be barricaded for the fifth day straight, which brought a halt to transit and the transportation of government supplies.
As the demonstration rages on, Maliki spoke at a conference in Baghdad and warned that continued civil unrest could lead to sectarian conflict and bring the country back into the dark days when people would kill each other over trivial religious differences. He also condemned the protestors in Anbar for blocking the roads and disrupting the lives of ordinary civilians.
Activists say Iraq’s current terrorism laws unfairly target and penalize Sunnis. According to a professor from Baghdad University, if the protests do not quell, the Sunnis may begin to seek their own regional autonomy in Anbar where they are the majority. This was what ultimately happened back in 1991 when the Kurds received anatomy from Saddam with the backing of the U.S.
Shiite and Sunni Muslims have been killing each other for years over trivial differences in the way they interpret the Koran. The violence took a turn for the worse in 2006 when the two sects began fighting for control over the Askariya Shrine in Samarra, a site that has been deemed holy. Since then, retaliatory attacks have been exchanged and left hundreds of civilians dead.
A recent attack by a suicide bomber who rammed his car into a Shiite religious building killed 18 and left 125 wounded. Later that day, a bomb was found lodged in the back of a Sunni Endowment office. The area was cordoned off where police safely detonated it.
Sunni and Shiite endowment offices are the logistical centers for religious matters regarding mosques and cultural locations. The two authorities have been disputing over how the Askariya shrine and surrounding perimeter should be reconstructed and developed.
While violence in Iraq has quelled in recent months, sectarian attacks remain a serious epidemic. Just a few days before, a series of bombings took place at a Shiite neighborhood market, killing 17 and injuring scores of others.
Some locals suspect that some of the attacks are orchestrated by government officials, as it is believed that some who hold office have ties to militia.
Following the 2006 bombing, an army brigade was dispatched to seize control of the shrine from the Sunni locals. This began a steady transition where rights to the shrine were given to the Shiite endowment. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, however, has taken measures to prevent full control from being granted to the Shiites. Sunni officials from Sumarra have vowed to take legal action to limit Shiite authority over the shrine.
Though Sunni Muslims are the minority, they held control over most of Iraqi policy and law. That is, until the U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s reign. Since then, the tide has shifted to the Shiite majority. This has created embitterment that led to the back and forth violence that has resulted in nothing other than countless civilian deaths.
On Sunday a suicide bombing targeted the Iranian National Guard and killed 26 people. The deputy commander of the Guards’ ground force, General Noor Ali Shooshtari, and the Guards’ chief provincial commander, Rajab Ali Mohammadzadeh, were among at least six officers reported to have been killed.
Iran holds the United States and Britain, responsible for the incident. State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said, “We condemn this act of terrorism and mourn the loss of innocent lives. Reports of alleged US involvement are completely false.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, vows revenge for the attack. Iran’s president has accused Pakistani agents of involvement in a suicide bombing in south-east of the country targeting a group of the elite Revolutionary Guards force. He called on Pakistan to arrest the attackers, who he said had entered Iran from Pakistan.
“We were informed that some security agents in Pakistan are co-operating with the main elements of this terrorist incident,” he was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency. “We regard it as our right to demand these criminals from them,” he said, without elaborating. “We ask the Pakistani government not to delay any longer in the apprehension of the main elements in this terrorist attack.” (BBC)
Actually a Sunni rebel group claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing, later on in the day. This particular organization has been carrying out attacks on the mainly Shiite Iranian government, since the 1979 formation of the Revolutionary Guard. Jundallah, also known as the Popular Resistance Movement of Iran, says it is fighting against the political and religious oppression of the country’s minority Sunni Muslims.