Protesters have flocked to the streets in recent days in the western Sunni heartland. They say Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has marginalized them, and that anti terrorism laws are being used unfairly against Sunnis.
Thousands of protesters demonstrated Sunday in Iraq's western Sunni heartland following the arrest of bodyguards assigned to the finance minister, briefly blocking the main highway linking Baghdad with neighboring Jordan and Syria.
The dispute threatens to exacerbate tensions with Iraq's Sunnis, who accuse Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of targeting and marginalizing them. The sectarian conflicts have largely paralyzed the government and have often turned violent.
On Friday, Iraq's Shiite-led government said it arrested 10 of Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi's bodyguards on terrorism-related charges. The government said it carried out the arrests according to the law and opposes any efforts to sow sectarian discontent.
In al-Issawi's hometown of Fallujah, some demonstrators covering their faces with red-checkered traditional tribal headdress carried pistols under their clothes. Others held flags from the era of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein and those now being raised by Syrian anti-government rebels.