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Iraqi protester sets self on fire

Dramatic turn in more than three weeks of rallies by Sunnis challenging Al Maliki

Gulf News

Mosul: An Iraqi protester set himself ablaze on Sunday in a dramatic turn in more than three weeks of rallies by Sunnis challenging Shiite Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s government.

Thousands of Sunni demonstrators have rallied since late December against a Shiite-led government they believe has marginalised their minority sect, raising fears the Opec country may slide again into widespread sectarian confrontation.

During protests of around 2,000 demonstrators in the northern city of Mosul, one man set himself ablaze before others quickly stamped out the flames with their jackets, police said. He was sent to hospital with burns to his face and hands.

“We don’t want people to hang themselves or burn themselves, this would be against Islam,” said Ganem Al Abid, protest organiser in Mosul, 390km north of Baghdad. “But he reached such a state of despair he set himself on fire.”

Self-immolations have had resonance in the Arab world since a Tunisian vegetable seller set himself on fire two years ago. His death in January 2011 triggered the wave of uprisings that toppled leaders across North Africa and the Middle East.

Sunday’s incident in Iraq shows the frustration among Sunnis that has not ebbed despite concessions from Al Maliki.

Many Iraqi Sunnis feel they have been unfairly targeted by security forces and sidelined from power since the fall of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussain after the 2003 US-led invasion and the rise of the Shiite majority through the ballot box.

Protests have centred Anbar province, a vast desert area that makes up a third of Iraq’s territory, populated mainly by Sunnis in towns and settlements along the Euphrates.