Iraq anti-gov’t rallies draw Sunni Muslims

Iraq anti-gov’t rallies draw Sunni Muslims

Iraq anti-gov’t rallies draw Sunni Muslims

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr (3rd R) takes part in Friday prayers participated by Sunni and Shiite Muslim worshippers in a gesture of unity in Baghdad. REUTERS photo

Thousands of Sunni Muslims demonstrated in Baghdad on Jan. 4, in the latest of nearly two weeks of rallies criticizing Iraq’s premier and demanding the release of prisoners they say are wrongfully held.

Demonstrators gathered at the Abu Hanifa mosque in the mostly-Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah, but were barred by security forces from leaving the compound to rally on the street.

The protesters have called for the release of prisoners they say were detained because of their Sunni background. The protests began on Dec. 23, and were sparked by the arrest of at least nine guards of Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi.

The rally came as Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr visited a Baghdad church that was the scene of a deadly 2010 attack as well as one of the Iraqi capital’s main Sunni mosques on Jan. 4. Al-Sadr said he visited the Our Lady of Salvation church to express sorrow at the attack and send a message of peace to Iraq’s Christian community.

Al-Sadr visited al-Gailani mosque, one of Baghdad’s prominent Sunni worship places, before Friday prayers. “We support the demands of the people, but I urge them to safeguard Iraq’s unity,” he said following Friday prayers.

Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.