By AL ARABIYA WITH REUTERS
Thousands of Iraqi protesters took to the streets on Friday to demonstrate against Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s suppressive policies including the arrest and detention of “innocent” people under the guise of “terrorism.”
Activists, who want changes to laws on terrorism that they say penalize Sunnis, plan bigger rallies on Friday, the traditional day of rest - and protest - in the Muslim world.
Sheikhs from the Sunni-stronghold province of Anbar said the planned protest was to bring “'honor of Iraqi female prisoners” back, Al-Sumaria News reported them as saying.
They also said that they received support from Shiite Muqtada al-Sadr, an Islamist Iraqi leader and head of al-Sadr bloc.
In a letter by Sadr sent to the tribal sheikhs, the Islamist leader said that he supports their protests against Maliki and their effort to hold unity and thwart sectarianism.
Meanwhile, other Sunni provinces, Salahaddin and Mosul, people expressed their support to Anbar’s protest against Maliki and called for civil disobedience, Al Arabiya reported.
On Thursday, there was a small protest in the mainly Sunni, northern city of Mosul.
Protests flared last week after troops loyal to Maliki, who is from the Shiite majority, detained bodyguards of his finance minister, a Sunni. Many Sunnis, whose community dominated Iraq until the fall of Saddam Hussein, accuse Maliki of refusing to share power and of favoring Shiite, non-Arab neighbor Iran.
A year after U.S. troops left, sectarian friction, as well as tension over land and oil between Arabs and ethnic Kurds, threaten renewed unrest and are hampering efforts to repair the damage of years of violence and exploit Iraq's energy riches.
“The people want to bring down the regime,” chanted some of about 2,000 demonstrators Thursday in the Sunni city of Ramadi - an echo of those used abroad during last year’s “Arab Spring” and still a rallying cry for mainly Sunni rebels in neighboring Syria.
Some flew the old Iraqi flag, introduced by Saddam’s Baath party and bearing three stars. It was replaced in 2008. Earlier in the week, Syria’s rebel flag was also flown at the protests.
The main highway at Ramadi, 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad, was barricaded for a fifth day, disrupting transit of government supplies along a key trade route to and from Jordan and Syria. Protesters were, however, letting most trucks, carrying private goods, pass along another road through Ramadi.