BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's Sunni finance minister drew cheers from anti-government protesters Friday when he announced he will resign from the government, further intensifying the country's political crisis nearly a decade after the U.S.-led invasion.
In a separate incident, Iraqi officials said a Russian-made rocket fired from Syria exploded well inside Iraqi territory. The rocket is likely to heighten worries that violence from Syria's civil war could spill across the border.
Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi's decision to leave marks the first resignation of a senior Sunni member of the Shiite-led government since a wave of anti-government protests began following the December arrest of his bodyguards on suspicion of terrorism-related activities.
Sunnis' feelings of perceived discrimination by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government are fueling the anger of demonstrators who are happy that al-Issawi ended his association with the al-Maliki administration.
"I am presenting my resignation in front of you. I do not care about a government that does not respect the Iraqi blood and its people," al-Issawi told thousands gathered in the western city of Ramadi, the epicenter of the demonstrations.
The protesters cheered in approval.
The resignation, however, has to be formally endorsed by al-Maliki, leaving al-Issawi's status in government unclear for now.
Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the prime minister, said al-Maliki would not accept the finance minister's resignation until a previously undisclosed investigation into alleged "financial and administrative irregularities" is complete. He refused to give further details.
Officials said the rocket launched from Syria landed about 40 kilometers (25 miles) inside Iraqi territory, near a village in the northwestern province of Ninevah.
Abdul Aal al-Obeidi, the mayor of the Iraqi town of Tal Afar, said the Russian-made rocket landed in an open area close to the nearby village of Youz Tapa.
Ninevah governor Atheel al-Nujaifi condemned the rocket attack and demanded the Iraqi government take whatever measures necessary to protect the Iraqi people from such attacks in the future.
"This attack put the lives of our people at risk and we hope that the launching of this rocket was not a deliberate act," said al-Nujaifi.