Baghdad: Iraq closed a border crossing with Jordan yesterday after Sunni Muslim demonstrators blocked a highway to Syria and Jordan as part of mass protests challenging Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s delicate power-sharing government.
Baghdad ordered troops to shut the Traibil border post in the Sunni heartland province of Anbar, where protests erupted in late December after authorities arrested the bodyguards of a Sunni finance minister, local officials said.
“Our work has halted completely,” Colonel Mahmoud Mohammed Ali, deputy chief of border police at the crossing said. “There are no trucks, no passenger cars, and officials at the gate are not working.”
“We received orders from the defence ministry to close the border because of demonstrations that continue to block the motorway,” a military official said on Tuesday.
Jordan’s official news agency Petra said the Iraqi authorities had informed the kingdom that they would close the Trebil border post starting from Wednesday at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) for “their own private reasons.”
It did not say when the border would reopen.
Local officials in Anbar said the central government had closed the crossing to choke the local economy in an attempt to put pressure on protesters who have blocked a main highway through the desert province for more than two weeks.
Thousands of demonstrators are camped out on the highway near Ramadi, about 100 km west of Baghdad, before the point at which it splits, with one road leading to Syria and another to Jordan.
The protests have become a major test for Al Maliki, whom many Sunni leaders accuse of marginalising their minority sect, shoring up his own authority and pushing the Opec country closer to Shi’ite non-Arab power Iran.
The latest turmoil erupted as conflict in Syria, where Sunni insurgents are battling President Bashar Al Assad who is backed by Iran, fuels regional sectarian tensions and tests Iraq’s own fragile cross-communal and ethnic balance.
Since the last American troops left Iraq a year ago, the government made up of majority Shi’ite, Sunni and ethnic Kurdish blocs has been deadlocked in a crisis over how to share power.
- with inputs from AFP and Reuters