On Monday the Financial Times of London reported that "Iraq’s volatile western region was on the verge of all-out rebellion against the central government" following the arrest over the weekend of a prominent legislator and the violent, lethal suppression of a peaceful protest in Ramadi. -- Reuters reported that the camp broken up "has been an irritant to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite Muslim-led government since Sunni protesters set it up a year ago to demonstrate against what they see as marginalization of their sect." -- The New York Times put the number dead at "[a]t least 17" and reported that "In scenes reminiscent of 2005, when Anbar was under the control of militants, tribal fighters in Ramadi deployed two tanks and seven Humvees they had seized from the military." -- "Police officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that security forces had pulled out of Falluja and Ramadi and were shelling the areas where the militants were gathered," Yasir Ghazi said. -- "The forces cut off communications networks and Internet access across Anbar Province." -- The Wall Street Journal reported that the attack on the protest camp came despite "a deal reached Sunday between the camps' residents and Mr. Maliki's minister of defense" which would have traded dismantlement of the camp for the release of Sunni Parliament member Ahmed al-Alwani. ...
WESTERN IRAQ ON BRINK OF REBELLION AGAINST REGIME
By Borzou Daragahi and Amina Ashraf
Financial Times (London)
December 30, 2013
Iraq’s volatile western region was on the verge of all-out rebellion against the central government on Monday. It followed the weekend arrest of a prominent lawmaker and the dispersal of a largely peaceful protest in the city of Ramadi that left at least 13 dead, according to news agencies.
. . .
Iraq’s smouldering civil tensions have been in danger of reigniting into full-blown conflict for months, stoked by perceptions that Mr. Maliki has a sectarian agenda favoring the Shia majority, as well as by jihadists entering Iraq over the Syrian border. The latest escalation of violence in Anbar province -- a center of resistance during the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and subsequent occupation -- has alarmed international observers.
Iraq’s vast energy reserves have piqued the interest of international businesses while its strategic location has made it a battleground for influence between Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.
. . .
The latest violence began on Saturday after government forces stormed the Ramadi home of Sunni lawmaker Ahmed al-Alwani on vague terrorism charges. In the reported shootout that followed, Mr. Alwani was wounded while his brother and at least five of his bodyguards were killed. Nearly 20 people, including members of the security forces, were also hurt.
Forty-four Sunni Arab lawmakers have resigned in protest at Mr. Alwani’s detention and the continued military campaign in Anbar. . . .
. . .
Other Sunnis in western Iraq have taken up arms, attacking government checkpoints and setting fire to military vehicles. Pictures posted to internet sites showed men holding AK-47s and vowing revenge against Iraqi security forces in both Ramadi and Fallujah, where mosques called on the faithful to violate a provincial curfew and help protesters.
FIGHTING ERUPTS AS IRAQ POLICE BREAK UP SUNNI PROTEST CAMP
By Kamal Namaa
December 30, 2013
RAMADI, Iraq -- Fighting erupted when Iraqi police broke up a Sunni Muslim protest camp in the western Anbar province on Monday, leaving at least 13 people dead, police and medical sources said.
The camp has been an irritant to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite Muslim-led government since Sunni protesters set it up a year ago to demonstrate against what they see as marginalization of their sect.
The operation triggered an immediate political backlash as dozens of Sunni lawmakers offered their resignations.
Maliki, who is seeking a third term in April's 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 2006-2007 that killed tens of thousands. Another eleven people died in separate attacks across Iraq on Monday.
Police sources said Monday's clashes broke out when gunmen opened fire on police special forces trying to enter Ramadi, the western city where the protest camp is located.
The gunmen destroyed four police vehicles and killed at least three policemen in the north of Ramadi, one source said.
The bodies of ten other people killed in the clashes were brought into Ramadi's morgue, hospital and morgue sources said. In Falluja, gunmen attacked army patrols deployed along the main highway leading to Ramadi.
Many Sunnis resent Shi'ite domination of Iraq's politics since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 and empowered majority Shi'ites through the ballot box.
Sheikh Abdul Malik Al-Saadi, an influential Sunni cleric who had 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.
A few hours later, over 40 Sunni lawmakers -- a substantial portion of parliament -- offered their resignations. Although not effective unless accepted by parliament's speaker, the resignations put further pressure on Maliki.
Prominent Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq called for all lawmakers from the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc to withdraw from the political process, saying it had hit a "dead end."
"Elections in this atmosphere would be settled in advance, therefore we should raise our voices high and say the political process cannot proceed in this way," he told reporters.
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 there 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 from the Iraqiya bloc in the area after killing his brother in a firefight with his bodyguards.
The incident prompted Saadi, the Sunni cleric, to urge Sunni protesters to "defend themselves."
Elsewhere in Iraq, three separate bombs in Baghdad killed at least eight people, police said. Three policemen were also found dead on the side of a road in the western Abu Ghraib district after gunmen abducted them, police said.
In Tikrit, the deputy governor of Salahuddin province escaped unharmed after a car bomb exploded near his convoy, wounding four of his bodyguards, police said.
At least 10 people were wounded when a car bomb exploded near a Shi'ite mosque in southern part of Kirkuk, police said.
More than 8,000 people have been killed across Iraq this year, according to the United Nations.
(Reporting by Kamal Namaa in Ramadi, Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk, Ghazwan Hassan in Tikrit and Kareem Raheem and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Alison Williams)
DEADLY CLASHES BETWEEN IRAQI FORCES AND TRIBAL FIGHTERS IN ANBAR
By Yasir Ghazi
New York Times
December 30, 2013
BAGHDAD -- Heavy fighting erupted on Monday between government security forces and tribal gunmen when the police moved to dismantle a Sunni protesters’ camp in Ramadi, west of Baghdad in Anbar Province, police and local officials said. At least 17 people died in the clashes, according to a security official.
Battles also broke out in other parts of the province, including Falluja. The security official, who asked not to be named, said that 12 civilians were killed and 26 were wounded in fighting in Ramadi and Hit, a nearby city. In Falluja, the official said, five soldiers were killed and 15 people were wounded.
In scenes reminiscent of 2005, when Anbar was under the control of militants, tribal fighters in Ramadi deployed two tanks and seven Humvees they had seized from the military.
“We will not kneel to the army of Maliki -- he should know that dealing with the people of Anbar is no picnic,” a tribal fighter in Ramadi said, referring to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq. “He thought that he can deceive the world by fighting Al Qaeda, but in reality he is fighting the Sunnis.”
Sheikh Abdul Malik al-Saadi, a leading Sunni cleric, asked Shiite tribes in southern Iraq not to send their sons to participate in “this blatant aggression on their brothers” in Anbar.
Nikolay Mladenov, the United Nations representative to Iraq, expressed concern and urged restraint, calling on political leaders “to immediately come together to discuss the serious challenges facing the country.”
Police officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that security forces had pulled out of Falluja and Ramadi and were shelling the areas where the militants were gathered. The forces cut off communications networks and Internet access across Anbar Province.
An official at the Ramadi hospital said that many of the wounded were women and children. The official said that the hospital expected to receive more victims, but that ambulances were unable to reach some areas because the heavy fighting was continuing.
A government spokesman, Ali Musawi, said in a statement that “the local police and the tribes in coordination with the local government in Anbar has completed the removal of tents in the sit-in site and opened the streets, and found two car bombs.”
“The dismantlement for the camp was done without any losses after the escape of Al Qaeda to the city,” he added.
--Stringer from Anbar contributed reporting.
Middle East news
IRAQI FORCES RAID SUNNI PROTEST CAMP
By Matt Bradley
Wall Street Journal
December 30, 2013
Iraqi security forces on Monday raided and dismantled an antigovernment protest camp in the restive western city of Ramadi, in a fresh outburst of violence that threatens to inflame Iraq's simmering sectarian tensions.
At least one person died in the raid, which comes two days after Iraqi security forces killed at least six people while arresting Sunni Parliament member Ahmed al-Alwani in the same city. Mr. Alwani's brother and five of his bodyguards were killed in that raid.
The dispersal of the Ramadi protesters ushers in more uncertainty for Iraq and its decade-long pursuit of political stability. Fueled in part by rising anger over what Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's critics see as his authoritarian tendencies and a rejuvenated al Qaeda movement, Iraq is again facing a violent impasse that recalls the sectarian civil war that broke out in 2006 and 2007.
More than 7,157 Iraqis have been killed in civil strife in 2013 to November, according to the United Nations. That's the highest number of casualties since 2008.
In a speech last week, Mr. Maliki singled out the Ramadi protest camp as a headquarters for al Qaeda in Western Iraq, a movement associated with mounting violence in the country over the past year.
The camp has stood since anti-government protests began about a year ago in response to the security forces' arrest of more than a hundred guards from the personal security detail of Rafie Al Essawi, a Sunni former finance minister. Iraq's government charged the bodyguards under a terrorism law that many Sunnis say unfairly targets their minority.
Mr. Awlani was an early supporter of the year-old Sunni protest movement against Mr. Maliki and his Shiite-dominated government. Many of the protesters, most of whom come from Iraq's Sunni-dominated western provinces, have chafed under what they describe as anti-Sunni security measures and government policies that favor the country's Shiite majority.
The security forces' raid on the protest camp scuttled a deal reached Sunday between the camps' residents and Mr. Maliki's minister of defense. The protesters had agreed to dismantle the sprawling tent city if the government released Mr. Alwani.
The encampment, which was completely removed on Monday, was estimated to hold several hundred protesters, with a population swelling to several thousand during regular Friday demonstrations.
Over the past month, Mr. Maliki has launched an extensive security campaign against al Qaeda in the western provinces. The campaign ensnared thousands of Sunnis, many of whom remain in detention without formal charges.