Tens of thousands took to the streets across Iraq on Friday in a day of national protest containing echoes of other popular uprisings that have taken place across the Middle East in the last two years.
Declaring it a "Friday of honor" and echoing chants reminiscent of the Arab Spring, the day was marked with mass rallies fueled by calls for a new government. Demonstrations leading up to today's events included protests in several cities and a week-long blockade of a major roadway.
The protest movement, made up of Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority, erupted last week in opposition to Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who protesters say has been suppressing Sunni rights in favor of the country's Shi'ite majority.
Throughout the country protesters chanted "the people want to bring down the regime," a chant widely used during the Egyptian, Tunisian and other uprisings. During the day, demonstrations formed in Fallujah, the northern city of Mosul, Samarra, and numerous other towns and cities. Friday saw the largest turnout of protesters yet in the consecutive days of outrage and road blockages.
The main highway at Ramadi, 100km west of Baghdad and 50km west of Fallujah—a main delivery route for government supplies and trade to and from Jordan and Syria—was blockaded by protesters for the fifth day in a row. The protesters were reportedly allowing private goods to pass through.
"Activists demands include an end to the marginalization of Sunnis, the abolition of anti-terrorism laws they say are used to target them, and the release of detainees," Reuters reports.
The protests erupted last week when troops loyal to Maliki detained the bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafaie al-Esawi, a Sunni, hours after Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who is viewed as a unifying force among rival groups in the country, was flown abroad for medical care.