BAGHDAD – Iraq’s parliament suspended its meeting on Tuesday amid protests by Sunni Muslim MPs over violence that targeted their community in eastern Iraq and left dozens killed in apparent retaliation for anti-Shi’ite bombings claimed by ISIS.
Sunni lawmakers urged Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to disband and disarm the Shi’ite militias which they accuse of being behind the latest attacks in and around the town of Muqdadiya, 80 kilometres (50 miles) northeast of Baghdad.
Raad al-Dahlaki and Nahida al-Daini, two Sunni MPs from Diyala province where Muqdadiya is located, said 43 people had been killed over the past week and nine mosques fire bombed. Salah Muzahim, another MP, said the toll was over 40 dead.
The rise of the Islamist militant group ISIS, which follows a Sunni jihadist ideology, has exacerbated a long-running sectarian conflict in Iraq, mostly between the Shi’ite majority and minority Sunnis.
A surge in such violence would represent a further challenge to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a moderate Shi’ite Islamist who is trying to reconcile the Sunnis and win them over to push ISIS out of the mainly Sunni-populated areas in the country’s north and west which it seized in 2014.
“These killings are hindering Abadi’s efforts to rebuild trust with the Sunnis which is essential to recover territory under ISIS control,” said Mona Alami, a Beirut-based analyst with the Atlantic Council think tank, using an acronym for ISIS.
“The Iraqi Forces Coalition… as the representative of the Sunni component in Iraq, announces… its members’ boycott of the next two sessions of parliament and government in condemnation of what is happening in Muqdadiya,” said a statement read by MP Ahmed Masari.
“We demand the dissolution and disarmament of the (Shi’ite) militias,” the statement said. Lawmakers met briefly on Tuesday and decided to adjourn until Thursday.
Iraq’s Interior Ministry has not published a toll for Sunni casualties in Muqdadiya and neighbouring villages. The ministry’s spokesman was not available to provide details on the latest violence.
Badr Organization, the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia which is dominant in Diyala, rejected the casualty figures quoted by the Sunni MPs.
“Yes, there are people killed but this number is exaggerated,” Mohammed Naji, an aide to Badr leader Hadi al-Amiri, told Reuters.
He described the attacks on Sunni mosques as violations by people who want to stir up sectarian tension in Diyala, which lies between Baghdad and the Iranian border and has a mixed population of Shi’ites and Sunnis.