Anti-government protests in Iraq devolve into sectarian fighting

Reports indicate that 128 people have been killed since clashes erupted between security forces and mostly Sunni protesters calling for the resignation of Shiite Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki.

By , Staff writer

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    Civilians inspect the aftermath of a car bomb attack in the Husseiniyah area of northeastern Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, April 25, 2013. A car bomb exploded after sunset on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 near a bus stop in Baghdad's mostly Shiite neighborhood of Husseiniyah, killing and wounding dozens of people, police said.
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• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Scores of Iraqis have been killed in two days of sectarian fighting in central Iraq, raising concerns about a new Sunni uprising against the Shiite central government.

Agence France-Presse reports that 128 people have been killed and 269 wounded since Tuesday in fighting between security forces and anti-government protesters in Sunni-majority regions of the mostly Shiite country. The protesters have been calling for the resignation of Shiite Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki, whose government they say has been targeting Sunnis.

Recommended: Sunni and Shiite Islam: Do you know the difference? Take our quiz.

The Los Angeles Times writes that observers have long feared that violence would erupt from the protests, which began in December.

The protests brought together a combustible mix of Islamists, former insurgents, tribes and competing political camps across central and northern Iraq.

The government’s suspicions about the protesters and slow response to their demands had raised the prospect of an armed Sunni uprising. After Tuesday’s violence, it was no longer clear that such an uprising could be averted.

The Los Angeles Times writes that according to Iraqi authorities, the bloodshed began in the town of Hawija, near the northern city of Kirkuk, with 50 people killed, though the violence spread across the country quickly.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that gunmen seized control of the town of Suleiman Beg, located north of Baghdad, after fighting with security forces on Wednesday, according to the Press Trust of India.  AFP writes that five soldiers and seven gunmen were killed and 63 wounded in the town when the gunmen attacked in apparent revenge for Tuesday's violence.  PTI adds that the gunmen seized the police station, and that the town is under siege by security forces.

The Associated Press sums up several other instances of violence across Iraq, including an attack on a security checkpoint near Mosul that left three gunmen dead; a car bomb north of Baghdad that hit a police patrol, killing one policeman and two civilians; and a car bomb at a bus stop in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad that killed seven and wounded 23.

The violence comes just days after Iraq held its first elections since US troops withdrew from the country. But the Monitor reported that those elections came "against a backdrop of widening violence, a record number of assassinations of political candidates, and deepening political division."

Although overall attacks are at roughly similar levels as they were for the last provincial elections in 2009, at least 13 candidates and two political party officers have been killed in targeted attacks in the past few weeks – a record number.  Almost 150 candidates have so far been struck off the list of candidates, most of them for alleged ties to the banned Baath Party of Saddam Hussein.

“It’s a showdown,” says Iraqi political analyst Saad Eskander. “They use 'legal' methods – expelling the ones they don’t want or by force – physical liquidation. This is an extension of politics, not an extension of terrorism.”

The elections were postponed in the Sunni provinces of Anbar and Ninevah for security reasons "in an indication of the growing divide between Iraqi provinces and the central government," the Monitor noted. And the northern Kurdish region will not hold elections until September.

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