44 Iraqi MPs resign after protest camp cleared

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Anti-Iraqi government gunmen are seen during clashes with security forces on December 30, 2013 in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, West of Baghdad. (Photo: AFP - Azhar Shallal)

Published Monday, December 30, 2013

Updated 7:40 pm: Forty-four Iraqi MPs announced their resignation on Monday after security forces demolished an anti-government protest site and detained a lawmaker according to AFP.

The announcement was made at a televised news conference at which the MPs also demanded "the withdrawal of the army... and the release of MP Ahmed al-Alwani," who was arrested during a deadly raid on Saturday.

Clashes broke out Monday in the Ramadi area, west of Baghdad, as security forces dismantled a protest camp where demonstrators had gathered for more than a year.

Ten militants died in the fighting, which also spread to the nearby city of Fallujah.

Protests broke out in various areas of Iraq in December 2012 after the arrest of guards of then-finance minister Rafa al-Essawi on terrorism charges.

The demonstrations have tapped into longstanding grievances regarding marginalized by the government and unfairly targeted with heavy-handed tactics by security forces.

Earlier, Iraqi forces battled militants in Fallujah on Monday as clashes spread to a second city after an anti-government protest camp was demolished, a police officer said.

The clashes erupted following deadly violence in nearby Ramadi, where security forces killed 13 in fighting that broke out as they demolished a camp where protesters had gathered for more than a year.

The camp has been an irritant to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government since protesters set it up a year ago to demonstrate against what they see as constant marginalization by the government.

Maliki, who is seeking a third term in April elections, has repeatedly vowed to remove the camp and accused protesters of stirring strife and sheltering al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Violence has spiked this year as al-Qaeda-linked militants target the government and anyone seen to be supporting it, raising fears of a return to the sectarian conflict of 2006-7 that killed tens of thousands.

Police sources said that Monday's clashes first broke out when gunmen opened fire on police special forces trying to enter the protest camp.

Gunshots and blasts were heard in parts of the city. The gunmen destroyed four police vehicles and killed at least three policemen in the north of Ramadi, one source said.

The bodies of 10 other people killed in the clashes were brought into Ramadi's morgue, hospital and morgue sources told Reuters.

Maliki's spokesman, Ali Mussawi, told AFP that military sources confirmed police and tribal militia had "completed the removal of the tents that were (at) the site, and opened the road that was closed."

But he denied that their had been any casualties, claiming that the site was taken down "without any losses, after al-Qaeda and its members escaped from the camp to the city, and they are being pursued now."

He was repeating an assertion made on December 22 by Maliki, who said that "the sit-in site in Anbar has turned into a headquarters for the leadership of al-Qaeda."

Maliki called on "those who are with them in this place who refuse sabotage and who have legal or illegal demands... to leave these camps, and leave this place, so that al-Qaeda stays alone."

He added that protesters had a "very short period" in which to leave.

Security forces found two car bombs and other explosives in the protest camp on Monday, state television said.

Sheikh Abdul Malik al-Saadi, an influential Sunni cleric who had previously called on protesters to remain peaceful, denounced the operation and called on security forces to withdraw immediately to prevent further bloodshed.

Calling Maliki's government a "sectarian government that wants to smash and eradicate the Sunni people in its country," he urged Sunni ministers, parliament members and local officials to resign and boycott the political process.

The United Nations called for restraint.

"I am concerned about the current developments in Anbar and call on all to remain calm and to abide by the agreements reached in the course of the last two days," UN envoy to Iraq Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement.

Defense ministry spokesman Lieutenant-General Mohammed al-Askari told state television the decision to remove the camp came after tribal leaders and local government and defense ministry officials reached a deal.

Tensions have been rising over the past few weeks in Anbar, a province that makes up a third of Iraq's territory and is populated mainly by Sunnis living along the Euphrates River.

The army launched a major operation in Anbar to flush out al-Qaeda militants after an attack killed at least 18 soldiers including an army commander on December 21.

Then on Saturday security forces arrested a prominent Sunni lawmaker in the area after killing his brother in a firefight with his bodyguards.

The incident prompted Saadi, the Sunni cleric, to urge protesters to prepare to "defend themselves."

More than 8,000 people have been killed across Iraq this year, according to the United Nations.

(Reuters, AFP)


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