Acting defense minister Saadun al-Dulaimi on Sunday accused Turkey of controlling Sunni anti-government protests in Shiite-majority Iraq, saying the demonstrations are a haven for “terrorists and killers.”
“There are foreign agendas controlling these sites,” Dulaimi said of the protests.
“It is like Anbar, or Mosul or Samarra are part of the Ottoman Empire,” he said, referring to Sunni areas in Iraq.
Areas of what is now Iraq were part of the Ottoman Empire, which was governed from Istanbul in what is now Turkey, before the empire's dissolution after World War I.
Ties between Baghdad and Ankara have been strained by issues including Turkey hosting Tareq al-Hashemi, Iraq's fugitive former vice president who has been sentenced to death on charges including murder.
Dulaimi also had harsh words for the protesters themselves.
“Shame... on those sites that are opening their doors to Istanbul or any other country,” he said.
“Protest sites have become a safe haven for terrorists and killers and those who call for strife, sectarianism and hate.”
The protests broke out in Sunni areas of Shiite-majority Iraq more than four months ago.
Demonstrators have called for the resignation of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, and criticized authorities for allegedly targeting their community with wrongful detentions and accusations of involvement in terrorism.
On April 23, security forces moved on protesters near the town of Hawijah in Kirkuk province, sparking clashes that killed 53 people.
Dozens more died in subsequent unrest that included revenge attacks targeting security forces, raising fears of a return to the all-out sectarian conflict that claimed tens of thousands of lives between 2006 and 2008.
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