Al Jazeera's Omar al-Saleh, reporting from Ramadi, said the protests had been triggered by the arrest 10 days ago of nine bodyguards for the finance minister, Rafia al-Issawi, in Baghdad.
"They're not only protesting against the arrest of the bodyguards. They're also now protesting against the imprisonment of Sunnis," our correspondent said. "They say the Sunnis have been targeted by the Shia-led government."
"So they're demanding the release of female prisoners. They're demanding the release of male prisoners. And also they want an end to what they say is marginalisation and discrimination against Sunnis."
Al Jazeera has a text and video report of today's protests here.
In October, allegations of torture and rape of women held in Iraqi prisons and detention centers began to make the rounds. In November, the allegations became a bit more. By December, Members of Parliament on certain security committees were speaking publicly about the abuses. This led to a fist fight in Parliament. Then Nouri's State of Law stormed out. Then Nouri declared that anyone talking about this topic was breaking the law. He continued on this tangent for weeks claiming this past week that he would strip MPs of their immunity. (The Constitution doesn't allow for that.) Also this past week, it was learned that at least four females were raped in a Baghdad prison.
Whether Nouri is doing this in an effort to respond to protesters or in an effort to bury the scandal (and the accompanying outrage) isn't known at this point.
Meanwhile, Ramadi's getting a lot of press attention. Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq went there today. Chen Zhi (Xinhua) reports that al-Mutlaq's office issued a statement claiming there was an assassination attempt on him while he was by the protesters and, following the assassination attempt, his bodyguards fired on the protesters. His office also claims that his bodyguards were injured. Citing witnesses and video, AP states that the bodygaurds fired on protesters who were making demands and throwing "rocks and bottles." AP notes that two protesters were injured by the gunshots. Reuters speaks with local witnesses and ends up with the same sequence of events AP has. Salma Abdelaziz, Yousuf Basil and Mohammed Lazim (CNN) report:
Some demonstrators Sunday called for al-Multaq, who is Sunni, to submit his resignation to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government. Protesters chanted, "Leave! Leave!" and threw stones at him, witnesses told CNN.
The deputy prime minister's bodyguards opened fire in an attempt to disperse the crowd as protesters hurled stones at the stage, Anbar provincial council member Suhaib al-Rawi told CNN. A protester with a gunshot wound was among five people injured, al-Rawi said. Details about the other injuries were not immediately clear.
All Iraq News counts 1 protester dead and four injured. Samantha Stainburn (Global Post) observes, "It is not known if the injured protests were shot intentionally or accidentally." The statement al-Mutlaq's office issued can be seen as an attempt by the politician to cover what happened. Why he was stupid enough to go to a protest is beyond me. Yes, he is Sunni and, yes, he is in the Iraqiya slate. But Saleh al-Mutlaq is not popular. He and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi (also Sunni and Iraqiya) were both targeted by Nouri in December of 2011. While Tareq ended up having to leave the country and being convicted of 'terrorism,' Saleh sailed right through. In May, Nouri dropped his efforts to strip Saleh of his office.
By that point, there had been months of speculation in the Iraqi press that Saleh al-Mutlaq had cut a deal to save his own ass, that he was now in partnership with Nouri al-Maliki. This seemed to be even more true when Saleh was seen as undermining efforts to get a no-confidence vote against Nouri as spring was winding down.
Saleh al-Mutlaq is seen -- rightly or wrongly -- by Sunni Iraqis as someone who protects himself and does nothing for other Sunnis (whether they're politicians or average citizens).
He went to a Sunni area, Ramadi, where protests had long been taking place and was immediately greeted with a demand that he resign from the Cabinet. (That would not have taken him out of his MP status. He just would no longer be a Cabinet member.) He was appalled by the idea and rejected it outright.
Nouri's first term was notorious for one Cabinet walk out after another.
But Saleh wouldn't even entertain the idea?
You've got provincial councils going on strike but Saleh can't even do a walk out?
Of course they threw rocks and bottles at him. He was already seen as a sell-out. And people want to believe that's not the case but then he appears before them and acts like that? He destroys his own image.
He never should have gone and it's a sign of just how out of touch with Sunni public opinion he is that he did show up.
Alsumaria notes that today's violence included a Kirkuk roadside bombing which left two people injured and All Iraq News notes that unknown assailants in military uniform stormed the home of Baghdad gas station owner Mohammed Fadel and shot him dead and left his sister injured.
I'm traveling in some vehicle
I'm sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
That shell shock love away
-- "Hejira," written by Joni Mitchell, first appears on her album of the same name
The number of US service members the Dept of Defense states died in the Iraq War is [PDF format warning] 4488.
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