Sectarian Protests Intensify in Iraq
Protests intensified in Iraq on Monday as thousands of new protesters joined demonstrations in Sunni strongholds across the country. At least 5,000 Iraqis joined the ongoing demonstrations in Anbar province, while in Mosul, Iraqi troops fired into the air and used batons to disperse demonstrators. The protests began in late December in response to the arrest of 150 bodyguards for Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi, a prominent Sunni government official. Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, leader of the outlawed Baath Party, encouraged the protesters to stand their ground until Mr. Maliki is forced out of office. On Friday, two prominent members of Iraqiya, a large bloc of Sunni lawmakers, also called for Mr. Maliki to step down.
Daniel R. DePetris writes that although sectarian tensions are not a new development in Iraq, the current protests mark a shift in the sense that “they are now playing out without some of the players that were once instrumental in enforcing the rules.” U.S. troops left the country over a year ago, and President Jalal Talabani, who has often acted as a mediator in political clashes between the sects, is experiencing health problems. DePetris also warned that given the absence of previous mediating actors, “Iraq needs to find someone else who can perform that difficult task.”