SAMARRA, Iraq (Reuters) - Several thousand Iraqis protested on Friday against Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Samarra and other Sunni Muslim strongholds after he moved to sideline two Sunni leaders from his power-sharing government.
Iraq faces its worst crisis in a year after Maliki sought Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi's arrest on terrorism charges and moved to fire a Sunni deputy, threatening to splinter Iraq's fragile sectarian and ethnic faultlines.
One Thursday, at least 72 people were killed in Baghdad by bombings in mainly Shi'ite neighborhoods that show the risk Iraq faces of tumbling into sectarian conflict following the withdrawal last week of the last U.S. troops nearly nine years after the invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.
After Friday prayers, with Sunni imams warning Maliki was seeking to foment sectarian divisions, protesters took to the streets of Samarra, Ramadi, Baiji and Qaim, many waving banners in support of Hashemi, and criticizing the government.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Angus MacSwan)