(MENAFN - Arab News) Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in central Baghdad backing Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki yesterday 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, pitting Al-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 Nuri Al-Maliki," while many shouted in unison: "All the people support Nuri Al-Maliki."
Other banners blamed Parliament speaker Osama Al-Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab opponent of Al-Maliki, for militant attacks and slammed calls in anti-government protests for a wide-ranging prisoner amnesty and reform of anti-terror laws.
"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 anti-terror legislation.
He noted that his son was killed by gunfire in west Baghdad in 2006, adding: "He was 20, I was about to get him married. For six years, I have not slept, I hope one night I can sleep."
Meanwhile, anti-government rallies blocked a key highway linking Baghdad to Jordan and Syria for a third week, while protests were also held in Samarra, Tikrit, Baiji and Mosul, all Sunni-majority areas north of the capital. The protesters have railed against alleged targeting of the minority community by the Shiite-led government, in particular claiming abuse of anti-terror laws to detain community members.
In the longest-running of the protests, in western Anbar province, tribal leaders called for Maliki to resign.
"We want Maliki to go, 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."
In Samarra, Abdulrahman Al-Samarraie, an imam, told AFP: "Maliki should leave, we gave him many chances but he did not do anything. He made many promises... but he did not fulfil those promises. He should leave."