Baghdad: Iraqi Sunni and Kurdish ministers boycotted a cabinet session yesterday to show support for protests that threaten Shiite Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s fragile cross-sectarian government, lawmakers and a government source said.
Thousands of protesters have demonstrated and blocked a key highway in Iraq’s Sunni provinces for more than two weeks to challenge Al Maliki, a leader many Sunnis feel has marginalised their community a year after the last US troops pulled out.
Sunni-backed Iraqiya party lawmakers said their ministers stayed away from the cabinet in support of the protests sparked in late December when security forces arrested bodyguards of Sunni Finance Minister Rafaie Al Essawi.
“They made a decision to boycott the session today,” Iraqiya lawmaker Jaber Al Jaberi told Reuters. “They don’t see a response from the government to the demands of the protesters... or to accepting power-sharing.”
Alaa Talabani, a Kurdish lawmaker, said party leaders had also asked Kurdish ministers to stay away. A senior government source at the meeting confirmed Sunni and Kurdish ministers had missed the Council of Ministers session.
Violence and bombings are down sharply since the height of Iraq’s conflict, but the government, split among majority Shiites, minority Sunnis and ethnic Kurds, has been deadlocked over power-sharing since it was formed in December 2010.
Meanwhile, in Basra, demonstrators took to the streets in Iraq’s second largest city to back the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, which has weathered over two weeks of angry protests.
The rally yesterday in the mostly Shiite port city of Basra appears to be the largest show of support for the government since primarily Sunni protests erupted last month over grievances including the detention of prisoners and perceived second-class treatment. An Associated Press journalist on the scene said more than 2,000 people participated in the Basra demonstration, some holding pictures of the Shiite prime minister.
At one point, they burned a picture of Izzat Ibrahim Al Douri, the highest ranking member of Saddam Hussein’s regime still at large. He recently voiced support for the Sunni anti-government protests.