TEN bodyguards of Iraq’s Sunni Finance Minister, Rafia al-Issawi, have been arrested in a terrorism-related sweep, the first official confirmation in a case that is inflaming the country’s simmering political and sectarian tensions.
Protests broke out in response to the detentions in at least two cities in Sunni-dominated western Anbar province, and the US said in unusually strong terms it was pressing Iraq’s Shiite-led government to uphold its commitment to the law.
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A co-ordinated wave of car bombs has struck Shi’ite pilgrims in Baghdad and several other cities, killing at least 70 people and wounding more than 200 in one of the deadliest days in Iraq since US troops withdrew from the country.
The bloodshed comes against a backdrop of political divisions that have raised tensions and threatened to provoke a new round of the violence that once pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.
Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents who frequently target Shi’ites in Iraq.
Co-operation? What’s that mean?
Sunni Muslim rulers have largely shunned an Arab League summit hosted by Shiite-led Iraq, illustrating how powerfully the sectarian split and the rivalry with Iran define Middle Eastern politics in the era of the Arab Spring.
The crisis in Syria is the epicentre of those divisions. Thursday’s one-day summit closed with a joint call on the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, to stop his bloody crackdown on an uprising seeking his ouster. But the final statement barely papered over the differences among the Arab nations over how to deal with the longest-running regional revolt….
In a snub to Iraq, only 10 heads of state from the Arab League’s 22 members attended, with the rest sending lower-level officials.
Especially notable were the absences of the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and most other Persian Gulf countries, as well Morocco and Jordan – all of them headed by Sunni monarchs who deeply distrust the close ties between Baghdad’s Shiite-dominated government and their top regional rival, Iran.
Myself and my cousins against the world!
Myself and my brothers against my cousins!
Myself against my brothers!
— Bedouin Arab saying
Witnesses on both sides of the divide and a medical worker who tracked the violence and collected the bodies said the tensions soared after a crowd of Alawites armed with sticks surrounded a mosque in a Sunni neighbourhood shortly before the midday prayers on Friday and began chanting anti-Sunni slogans.
Sunnis responded by abducting three Alawites and their bullet-ridden bodies were found dumped in a Sunni neighbourhood of the city on Saturday. Alawites went on a rampage, looting and burning Sunni shops.
In the melee, at least three Sunnis were killed, including a 27-year-old woman who was shot when she stepped outside her home in a majority Alawite neighbourhood.