Iraq Frees Prisoners as Gesture to Sunni Demonstrators
The Iraqi government has released over 300 prisoners arrested for violations of an anti-terror law. Protests erupted three weeks ago when Sunni Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi‘s bodyguards were arrested under this law. Demonstrators have claimed that the law is being used by the government to oppress the Sunni minority, and the release of prisoners arrested under this law has been one of their primary demands. Discussing the release, Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, a senior Shi’ite figure leading a committee recently established to examine the protesters’ demands, said, “In name of the Iraqi State, I apologize to those who were arrested and jailed and were later proven to be innocent.”
Prior to the prisoner release, Osama al-Nujaifi, parliament speaker and the most senior elected Sunni figure, reiterated the demands of the protesters this weekend. He said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should enact an amnesty law to free detainees jailed on terrorism charges and modify these laws. He also expressed concern that failure to change the current political environment in Iraq could result in leaders losing control over the protests.
Meanwhile, in the midst of the growing sectarian tensions, there was an apparent assassination attempt on Essawi. A roadside bomb exploded near his convoy on Sunday. Essawi was not injured in the attack.