Iraq to close Jordan border crossing in anti-Maliki province

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Iraq’s Ministry of Defense will close the country’s border crossing with Jordan on Wednesday, Al Arabiya reported Tuesday. An official reason was not provided.

The Teraibeel border crossing, an important commercial thoroughfare, is located in the predominantly Sunni Anbar province. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets there on a daily basis against Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his government, accused of marginalizing Sunnis.

Sunni leaders’ and tribal sheikhs’ demands range from Maliki’s removal to the release of detainees and the suspension of an anti-terrorism law that Sunnis believe has been abused by authorities to unfairly target their sect.

The government’s attempt to block the crossing is to pressure protesters, Anbar council member Hikmat Suleiman told Al Arabiya. Due to the heightening of the Syrian conflict, traders have rechanneled their cargo routes from Syria’s Tartous port to Jordan’s Aqaba, thereby making Teraibeel far more important.

The government is waging an economic war to pressure protesters to stop demonstrating, said Imad Mishaal, mayor of Rutbah, a strategic town located on the Amman-Baghdad road.

Session boycotted

Sunni Arab and Kurdish ministers boycotted a cabinet session on Tuesday to show support for the protests threatening Maliki’s fragile cross-sectarian government, that began when security forces arrested the bodyguards of Sunni Finance Minister Rafaie al-Esawi.

The Sunni-backed, secular Iraqiya party lawmakers said their ministers from the stayed away from the cabinet meeting in support of the protests sparked in late December.

Lawmakers from the Sunni-backed, secular Iraqiya party boycotted the session because “they don’t see a response from the government to the demands of the protesters... or to accepting power-sharing,” Reuters reported Iraqiya lawmaker Jaber al-Jaberi as saying.

Party leaders had also asked Kurdish ministers to stay away, said Kurdish lawmaker Alaa Talabani.

Request to grill Maliki

In the latest protest against Maliki’s rule, House Speaker Osama al-Nujafi received Tuesday a request from 25 parliamentarians to grill the prime-minister, al-Sumaria News reported.

Violence and bombings are down since the height of the country’s conflict, but the government - split among Shiites, minority Sunnis and ethnic Kurds - has been deadlocked over power-sharing since it was formed in December 2010.

Protests, and the conflict in neighboring Syria - where mainly Sunni insurgents are fighting President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of predominantly Shiite Iran - are fuelling worries that Iraq risks sliding back into the sectarian slaughter that peaked in 2006 and 2007.

Lawmakers from Iraqiya, Kurdish parties, Maliki’s State of Law alliance and other Shiite factions failed to agree on measures to appease protesters’ demands.

Demonstrations erupted a day after President Jalal Talabani flew out of Iraq for treatment following a stroke. A respected Kurdish statesman, Talabani has long been a moderating influence among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.

Pro-Maliki protests

In predominately Shiite southern Iraq, thousands took to the streets Tuesday in a show of support for the premier after more than two weeks of anti-Maliki protests in the mainly Sunni Arab north and west.

While Shiite demonstrators in southern Iraq showed their support for Maliki, powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has publicly backed the anti-government rallies.