Strong show of support for Iraqi prime minister

January 13, 2013 - 3:25:36 am

BAGHDAD: Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in central Baghdad yesterday to back Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, as the latest in weeks of anti-government rallies in Sunni areas of Iraq called for 

him to quit.

The demonstrations have worsened a political crisis that pits Maliki against his erstwhile government partners, with the premier facing accusations of authoritarianism and sectarianism ahead of key 

provincial polls.

At Tahrir Square in the heart of the capital, demonstrators held up posters of the prime minister alongside banners that read: “I am Iraqi, I love Maliki,” and “We strongly support Nouri Al Maliki.”

Many shouted in unison: “All the people support Nouri Al Maliki”.

In a sign of increasing sectarian rhetoric at the rallies, many demonstrators held up banners describing themselves as “followers of Hussein,” a revered figure in Shia Islam. A speaker led the crowd in chants of “Labeika Ya Hussein,” or “We will follow you, Hussein”.

Banners also blamed parliament speaker Osama Al Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab opponent of Maliki, for militant attacks.

Demonstrators said the premier should resist demands for a wide-ranging prisoner amnesty and reform of anti-terror laws, both of which are key demands of anti-government protesters. “In the names of all the martyrs, the victims, the widows, we call on the government not to cancel Article 4,” said one protester, a 67-year-old who gave his name as Abu Hussam, referring to a widely cited article of Iraq’s anti-terror law.

Abu Hussam said his son was killed by gunfire in Baghdad in 2006.

“He was 20, I was about to get him married. For six years, I have not slept, I hope one night I can sleep.”

Dozens of people also took part in a pro-government rally in the southern port city of Basra, a journalist said.

Meanwhile, anti-government rallies blocked a key highway linking Baghdad to Jordan and Syria for a third week. Protests were also held in Samarra, Tikrit, Baiji and Mosul, all Sunni-majority areas north of 

the capital.

The demonstrations have decried alleged misuse of anti-terror laws to wrongfully hold members of their community, and claim they are being targetted by the Shia-led authorities.

In the longest-running of the protests, in western Anbar province, tribal leaders called for Maliki 

to resign.

“We want Maliki to fall, because he has insulted our dignity many times,” said Ali Al Hatem, a leader of the powerful Dulaim tribe. “We will not leave until you find a replacement for Maliki. Then we can negotiate.”