An Iraqi protester set himself ablaze on Sunday in a dramatic turn in more than three weeks of rallies by people challenging Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki's government.
Thousands of demonstrators have rallied since late December against a government they believe has marginalised their minority sect, raising fears the OPEC country may slide again into widespread sectarian confrontation.
During protests of around 2,000 demonstrators in the northern city of Mosul, one man set himself ablaze before others quickly stamped out the flames with their jackets, police said. He was sent to hospital with burns to his face and hands.
"We don't want people to hang themselves or burn themselves," said Ghanim Al Abid, protest organiser in Mosul, 390km north of Baghdad. "But he reached such a state of despair he set himself on fire."
Self-immolations have had resonance in the Arab world since a Tunisian vegetable seller set himself on fire two years ago. His death in Jan. 2011 triggered the wave of uprisings that toppled leaders across North Africa and the Middle East.
Sunday's incident in Iraq shows the frustration among some people that has not ebbed despite concessions from Maliki.
Many Iraqis feel they have been unfairly targeted by security forces and sidelined from power since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the rise of majority through the ballot box.
Protests have centred in Anbar province, a vast desert area that makes up a third of Iraq's territory, populated mainly by people in towns and settlements along the Euphrates.
SYRIA CRISIS LOOMS
A year after the last American troops left, Iraq's government parties is deadlocked in a crisis over how to share power. Insurgent bombers are still seeking to enflame sectarian tensions.
Violence and unrest are worsening concern that the conflict in neighbouring Syria will upset Iraq's own delicate sectarian and ethnic balance.
A suicide bomber killed an influential lawmaker on Tuesday, and another suicide bomber hit the disputed city of Kirkuk a day later, killing more than 20 people.
Turmoil erupted in late December after state officials arrested members of a finance minister's security team on terrorism charges. Authorities denied the arrests were political, but some leaders saw them as a crackdown.
Maliki has appointed Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Al Shahristani, an influential figure, to address protester demands, and the government has released more than 400 detainees in an effort to appease rallies.
"There is no time left for talks. The government has to stand up to its responsibility and take a crucial decision to meet demands," said Sunni lawmaker Wihda Al Jumaili.
Protesters want anti-terrorism laws modified, prisoners released, an amnesty law passed and an easing of a campaign against former members of Saddam's outlawed Baathist party.
They are also demanding better government services, a complaint they share with other Iraqis frustrated by the lack of economic progress despite windfall state revenues from growing oil production.
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