Iraq’s Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi announced his resignation on Friday at an anti-government Sunni protest, after more than two months of demonstrations demanding an end to marginalization of their minority sect.
State television quoted Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office as saying the resignation of Essawi, a leading Sunni and Iraqiya member, would not be accepted until an investigation into “his financial and administrative violations” was complete.
“I am with you, I am your son, and I announce today... that I am presenting my resignation from the Iraqi government, and I will not return to this government,” Essawi told thousands of demonstrators in Ramadi, west of Baghdad.
“We are with you, Essawi,” protesters chanted in response.
“More than 70 days of demonstrations and this government hasn't fulfilled our people's demands,” Esawi later told Reuters.
“It doesn't honor me to be part of a sectarian government. I decided to stay with my people.”
Maliki is at loggerheads with Iraqiya, which is a part of his national unity government, over its accusations of authoritarianism and sectarianism in the run-up to key provincial polls scheduled to be held next month.
The country's precarious sectarian balance has come under growing strain as Iraq Sunnis vent frustrations that have built up since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 overthrew Saddam Hussein and empowered majority Shi'ites through the ballot box.
The demonstrations in the country's Sunni heartland are fuelling concerns the increasingly sectarian conflict inneighbouring Syria will push Iraq back towards the bloody Sunni-Shi'ite strife of 2006-2007.
It was Maliki's arrest of Esawi's bodyguards that ignited the protests in the first place last December.
Iraqi authorities said Esawi's bodyguards had confessed to involvement in assassinations carried out in coordination with security men employed by Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who fled into exile a year ago and was later sentenced to death in absentia for terrorism.
Esawi was once a leader of armed Islamist group Hamas al-Iraq, which was active in Anbar.