Iraqi PM Maliki agrees to reopen border crossing with Jordan

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Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki agreed to re-open a border crossing with Jordan closed after Sunni demonstrators blocked a highway to Syria and Jordan as part of mass protests against the Shi’ite premier, Al Arabiya reported Thursday.

The governor of Anbar’s province confirmed the report saying the Teraibeel crossing will be accessible as of Friday.

Iraq’s Ministry of Defense closed the country’s border with Jordan on Jan. 8, 2013. The Teraibeel crossing is an important commercial thoroughfare and is located in the predominantly Sunni Anbar province.

As the Syrian conflict escalates, traders have rechanneled their cargo routes from Syria’s Tartous port to Jordan’s Aqaba, thereby making Teraibeel far more important.

Over the last month, thousands of protesters have taken to Anbar’s streets, rising up against Shiite Prime Minister Maliki and his government, accused of marginalizing Sunnis.

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

Sunni protests are fuelling Iraqi worries about Syria, where the battle between mostly Sunni insurgents against President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Shi’ite Iran, is stirring regional sectarian tensions and testing Iraq’s own fragile balance.

Sectarian tensions remain raw in Iraq, which endured years of Sunni-Shi’ite bloodshed shortly after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled former strongman Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Protests broke out in December after Finance Minister Rafaie al-Esawi’s bodyguards and staff were detained on terrorism charges. Sunni leaders saw the arrests as part of a sustained crackdown on their sect by Iraq’s Shi’ite leadership.

Many Sunnis say they feel sidelined since elections in a post-Saddam Iraq empowered majority Shi’ites, although Shi’ite leaders point to Sunnis in important posts such as speaker of parliament as evidence that power-sharing is genuine.

Violence in Iraq has eased, but the government made up of Shi’ite, Sunni and ethnic Kurdish blocs has been deadlocked over how to share power since American troops left in December 2011.

Complicating the attempts to ease Sunni protests, the Arab-led central government in Baghdad is also caught in a standoff over oil with Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan enclave, where ethnic Kurds run their own regional government.