Anti-government protests rage in Iraq

The New York Times reports: Moktada al-Sadr expressed support on Tuesday for fresh protests against Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a fellow Shiite but his political opponent, saying that Mr. Maliki bears “full responsibility” for the unrest in the country.

As with many developments in Iraq, the timing and venue of Mr. Sadr’s comments to reporters were as notable as their meaning. He spoke in Najaf, one of the holiest cities of his Shiite sect, just as Iraq ended its bloodiest year since 2009, a reflection of unabated ethnic, sectarian and political tensions among the country’s Kurdish, Arab, Sunni and Shiite populations.

Several times during the gathering, Mr. Sadr directed his remarks at Mr. Maliki, who has taken recent steps that suggested he was asserting greater control over many aspects of the government and that prompted fears he was cracking down on his political opponents. Mr. Sadr’s remarks could indicate that he is trying to test the political waters or possible support from the street before Iraq’s provincial elections, which are scheduled for the spring.

Mr. Sadr also tried to assert broader credibility for the anti-Maliki protests by comparing them to the movements that have swept many Arab countries in the past few years, calling for new government leaders and better representation.

“The Iraqi spring is coming,” Mr. Sadr said, in a tone that implied a warning to Mr. Maliki.

“We are with the demonstrators, and Parliament must be with them, not against them,” he said. “The legitimate demands of the demonstrators, by which people know what they want, should be met.”

Mr. Sadr was careful to appear moderate and to say he was speaking for all Iraqis in his remarks, which his media office distributed to journalists throughout the country. He said he supported the widespread demonstrations as long as they were peaceful and did not seek to create divisions, driving the last point home by adding that he was willing to go to Sunni-dominated Anbar Province to take part in protests.

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