Baghdad: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Tuesday announced the Army would leave cities in Anbar province, apparently seeking to defuse simmering tension after security forces closed a major Sunni anti-government protest camp.
Deadly clashes broke out yesterday as security forces tore down the sprawling protest camp near the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, and sporadic fighting continued today, leaving a total of at least 14 people dead.
Yesterday`s removal of the camp near the Anbar provincial capital was a victory of sorts for Maliki, who had long wanted it gone as, according to him, it was being used as a headquarters by al Qaeda.
But while the camp`s closure removed a physical sign of deep-seated grievances among Sunni Arabs, it leaves underlying issues unaddressed and is likely to inflame already-widespread anger among the minority community.
In a move seemingly aimed at calming tensions, Maliki today announced that the army would leave cities in Anbar, a demand made by MPs who submitted their resignations the previous day.
He called on "the armed forces to devote themselves to ... pursuing al Qaeda hideouts in the desert of Anbar" and for the Army to turn over "the administration of the cities to the hands of the local and federal police," a statement on his website said.
Maliki praised the closure of the camp, saying that it was moving toward the control of "terrorist groups", and that it was shut down in cooperation with the local government and tribal and religious leaders.
The violence continued in the Ramadi area today, where fighting killed three gunmen and an Iraqi army sniper, while three militants were wounded, police and a doctor said.
A journalist in Ramadi reported sporadic clashes in the area, which was under curfew, and said items including food and petrol were in short supply.
Security forces killed 10 gunmen yesterday in the Ramadi area during clashes as the protest camp was taken down, while violence also spread to the nearby city of Fallujah.
There was also political fallout, with 44 MPs, most of them Sunnis, announcing they had submitted their resignations.