Demonstrators took to the streets in Iraq's second largest city Tuesday to show support for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, which has weathered over two weeks of angry protests.
The rally in the mostly Shiite port city of Basra appeared to be the largest display of support for the government since primarily Sunni protests erupted last month. Sunni grievances include the detention of prisoners and perceived second-class treatment.
An Associated Press journalist at the Basra demonstration said more than 2,000 people participated, some holding pictures of the Shiite prime minister. At one point, they burned a picture of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the highest-ranking member of Saddam Hussein's regime still at large. He recently voiced support for the Sunni anti-government protests.
The state-run Iraqiya television channel showed smaller demonstrations in other cities in Iraq's Shiite-dominated south.
The channel has not provided extensive coverage of the anti-government protests that have gripped the western city of Ramadi and other Sunni-dominated parts of the country. They follow the arrest of bodyguards assigned to Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi, one of the central government's most senior Sunni officials.
The anti-government demonstrators' anger runs deeper than the arrests, tapping into Sunni Muslim feelings of discrimination and unfair application of laws against their sect by the government, which is dominated by Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority but also includes ethnic Kurds.
In Baghdad, most Sunni and Kurdish government ministers boycotted a Cabinet session Tuesday. A member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, parliament member Haider al-Mulla, said the officials opted to stay away to protest what they see as a refusal by the government to tackle the political crisis and consider the demands of protesters rallying against the government.
Later in the day, a car bomb exploded near the town of Khan Bani Saad, killing five people and wounding 11, according to police and hospital officials. The town is about 35 kilometers (20 miles) north of Baghdad.
Violence has ebbed in Iraq in recent years, but insurgents continue to carry out frequent attacks.
Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed reporting from Baghdad.