Baghdad - The Iraqi government warned on Friday of possible "terrorists attacks" targeting mass protests being held by the country's Sunni Muslims against Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, amid a festering sectarian row in the country.
"The security agencies have learnt that armed terrorist groups plan to infiltrate into protests in [the western province of] Anbar to carry out terrorist acts with the aim of causing chaos and dragging the Armed Forces into a confrontation," al-Maliki's office said in a statement quoted by the independent Iraqi website Alsumariya News.
Iraq's formerly dominant Sunni minority accuses al-Maliki, whose government is dominated by Shi'ite parties, of marginalising Sunni politicians.
New mass rallies were planned on Friday in Iraq's Sunni towns to demand the release of Sunni prisoners and the repeal of anti-terror legislation they say target Sunnis especially.
The government said it would take measures to protect the demonstrators from what it described as "evil schemes by al-Qaeda and Baath", referring to the now-defunct party of Saddam Hussein.
3 death sentences
Hundreds of protesters in Anbar have been camping for two weeks, blocking a highway that leads to Jordan and Syria.
Al-Maliki, who is facing one of the toughest crises since taking office in 2006, has threatened to use force to end the sit-in, which he says is illegal.
Al-Maliki's relations with Iraq's Sunnis worsened dramatically in 2011, when authorities issued an arrest warrant against the Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges.
Al-Hashemi denied the accusation and fled to Turkey. He has since received three death sentences in absentia.