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Iraqi minister resigns amid protests

From Hamdi Alkhshali, CNN
March 1, 2013 -- Updated 2041 GMT (0441 HKT)
An Iraqi boy wears a placard reading 'Baghdad we are coming' during rally on March 1, 2013 in Hawijah, near Kirkuk.
An Iraqi boy wears a placard reading 'Baghdad we are coming' during rally on March 1, 2013 in Hawijah, near Kirkuk.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Iraqi Finance Minister Rafaie al-Esawi announces his resignation
  • He says the government has not met the demands of protestors
  • The protests began after his bodyguards were arrested on government orders

(CNN) -- Iraqi Finance Minister Rafaie al-Esawi announced his resignation Friday, a move triggered by daily demonstrations by Sunnis over grievances they have against the Shiite-dominated government, his spokesman said.

Sunni demonstrators in provinces such as Anbar and Mosul have called for an end to what they consider second-class treatment.

The finance minister resigned because the government has not met the demands of the demonstrators to end the marginalization, spokesman Aysar Ali told CNN.

READ: Bombs target Shiite neighborhoods, claim 21lives in Iraq

The protests began in late December when Sunni demonstrators took to the streets in Anbar province to protest an order to arrest the bodyguards of al-Esawi, a Sunni.

Iraqi soldiers fire on protesters

The arrest of al-Esawi's bodyguards came just hours after President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who was widely viewed as a stabilizing political force in Iraq, left the country about two weeks after suffering a stroke.

The protesters also are demanding the release of detainees they say are being held without charges, calling the government corrupt and accusing it of unfairly targeting Iraq's Sunni people.

The protests grew in January, when at least seven people were killed in shootings during a protest by Sunnis in Falluja.

The Sunni protests have been countered by mostly Shiite, pro-government demonstrations, raising fears that the sectarian division could bring violence in the streets.

Sunnis make up about 20% of Iraq's estimated population of more than 27 million, whereas about 60% to 65% are Shiite.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime in 2003, Sunnis in Iraq have been largely disaffected. The gulf was widened in 2005 when Sunnis boycotted the country's election, opening the way to a heavily dominated Shiite government.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.

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