The months of peaceful protests by Iraqi Sunnis against the Maliki government may be at an end today, after troops attacked protesters in the city of Hawija, killing scores and fueling outrage just one day after a general strike among Sunni Arabs.
Iraqi troops raided the camp early in the day, and the Defense Ministry claimed that they found rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles among the protesters. Mysteriously, none of these weapons appear to have been used by the protesters to protect themselves during the raid, and protest leaders say some of the slain were just run over by military vehicles during the advance on the camp.
This sets the stage for more claims that Sunni Arab protesters are just a cover for militant groups, which is materially what the protests were about in the first place. The military burned the camp and has announced a curfew across the Salahuddin Province.
The protests initially began in December, when Maliki moved against the Finance Minister, Rafi Essawi, the highest ranking Sunni Arab in the cabinet, on charges of his security detail being “terrorists.” This fanned the flames already lit by Maliki forcing Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, another Sunni Arab, into exile as a “terrorist leader,” sentencing him to death in absentia.
The last two Sunni Arabs with portfolios, Education Minister Mohammed Tamim and Science Minister Abdulkarim Samarraie, have both announced their resignation today in protest against the crackdown.
The protests already had strong currency among Sunni Arabs, who see the Shi’ite dominated government as discriminating against them and labeling them all “terrorists” as a way to justify crackdowns. Today’s raid, being justified in the exact same way, is likely to just cement this belief and more troubling, may convince protesters that peaceful dissent is every bit as dangerous as taking up arms outright against the Maliki government.