Baghdad: Iraqi authorities citing security concerns closed the country`s only border crossing with Jordan on Wednesday, cutting a key route through a part of the country where anti-government protests have been raging for weeks.
Residents of Anbar province, the centre of the Sunni-led demonstrations, rejected the closure and accused the government of trying to pressure them to end their protests against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki`s Shi’ite-dominated administration.
"The closure ...serves only one purpose, and that is to damage the image of the protesters and depict them as troublemakers who want to make the lives of Iraqis more difficult," one of the protest organisers, Saeed Humaim, told a news agency. "We will stand firm on our demands, and we will not be shaken by this irresponsible act."
Many Sunnis in Iraq complain of discrimination by the Shi’ite-led government. The mass protests in Anbar, and increasingly elsewhere in the country, are the largest and most sustained demonstration of Sunni discontent since the 2003 US-led invasion. Sectarian tensions frequently boil over into bloody attacks, nowadays mostly by Sunni extremists against Shi’ite residents and pilgrims, threatening the country`s stability.
The Prime Minister`s spokesman, Ali al-Moussawi, did not specify the nature of the security fears that he said prompted the move. He denied that the closure was intended to pressure protesters, saying officials were responding to intelligence information.
The highway from Baghdad to the Jordanian border runs through Anbar, a vast Sunni-dominated province in Iraq`s western desert. The heavily travelled road, which extends about 570 kilometres from the border to Baghdad, is one of Iraq`s most vital routes for travellers and trade.