Iraq PM to deploy more troops to combat Anbar unrest

Iraq PM to deploy more troops to combat Anbar unrest

BAGHDAD - Agence France-Presse
Iraq PM to deploy more troops to combat Anbar unrest

Protesters burn a police vehicle during fighting in Ramadi Dec. 31. REUTERS photo

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Jan. 1 reversed a decision to withdraw soldiers from Anbar cities and ordered reinforcements to the mainly Sunni Arab province to tackle attacks by militants.

Clashes broke out in Anbar, west of Baghdad, as security forces tore down a year-old Sunni Arab protest camp outside the provincial capital Ramadi on Dec. 30. On Jan. 1, police reportedly left many positions in the Anbar city of Fallujah, while militants torched police stations both there and in Ramadi.

"We will not withdraw the army" and "we will send additional forces," Iraqiya state television quoted Maliki as saying in response to what it said were requests from residents and the provincial government.

Maliki had announced on Jan. 1 that the army would withdraw from Anbar cities and hand over control to police, in an apparent bid to calm tensions that spiked after the protest camp's removal.

The deadliest fighting took place on Dec. 30, when 10 people were killed in the Ramadi area, but the violence has continued.

On Jan. 1, gunmen attacked the main police station in Fallujah and ordered its staff to leave, before raiding its armoury and freeing 101 prisoners from its cells, police said.

Other police stations in the city were torched by militants as most police abandoned their posts.

In Ramadi, farther west, security forces clashed sporadically with militants, who burned four police stations and two military vehicles, an AFP journalist reported.

Pictures posted online and said to have been taken in Ramadi showed militants driving a police Humvee decked with a black flag of the sort often flown by jihadists.

Resignation of 44 MPs 

The removal of the protest camp was a victory of sorts for Maliki, who had long wanted it gone and had termed it a "headquarters for the leadership of Al-Qaeda."

But it has carried a high price, not only in terms of the deteriorating security situation in Anbar, but also in the political fallout.

Forty-four MPs announced on Dec. 30 that they had submitted their resignations, and called for "the withdrawal of the army from the cities and the release of MP Ahmed al-Alwani." Alwani, a Sunni Arab MP who was a leading supporters of the protest camp, was arrested in a raid on his Ramadi home on Dec. 28 in which his brother, five guards and a security forces member died.

Protests broke out in Sunni Arab-majority areas of Iraq late last year after the arrest of guards of then-finance minister Rafa al-Essawi, an influential Sunni Arab, on terrorism charges.

The arrests were seen by Sunnis as yet another example of the Shiite-led government targeting their leaders.

In December 2011, guards of vice president Tareq al-Hashemi, another prominent Sunni politician, were arrested and accused of terrorism. Hashemi fled to Turkey and has since been given multiple death sentences in absentia for charges including murder.

The demonstrations have tapped into longstanding grievances of Sunnis, who say they are marginalised by the Shiite-led government and unfairly targeted with heavy-handed tactics by security forces.

And while the government has made some concessions aimed at placating them, including freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of anti-Qaeda militiamen, underlying issues remain unaddressed.

Violence in Iraq has reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings.