Iraqi premier warns against continuation of protests in Anbar

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says Baghdad would use force to end the protests that have led to several days of blockage of a major road in the western province of Anbar connecting Iraq to Syria and Jordan.

The Iraqi premier said the protesters should “end their strike before the state intervenes to end it.”
“I warn you against continuing (blocking the highway), because this is against the Iraqi constitution. We have been very patient with you.”

The protesters have blocked off the key trade highway since December 23, following the arrest of Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi’s bodyguards on terrorism charges.

The demonstrators allege that the arrests were made on sectarian grounds and demand the release of the detainees.
Maliki, however, says the bodyguards were arrested following an independent judicial inquiry based on the anti-terrorism law.
Khaled al-Mullah, an Iraqi official appointed to negotiate with the protesters, said on Tuesday that the Iraqi prime minister had issued an order to release more than 700 female detainees to meet one of the demands of the demonstrators.
“The prime minister will write to the president to issue a special amnesty to release them,” Mullah said.
The Iraqi government says there are foreign agendas behind the protests.
Last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Iraqi government of sectarian behavior, saying that Iraq could soon be plagued with unrest like what is now happening in Syria.
Baghdad-Ankara relations turned sour last year after Turkey expressed support for fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and gave him refuge. Hashemi has been sentenced to death in Iraq over involvement in terrorist activities.