Four people died in fresh clashes Tuesday between Iraq’s security forces and gunmen in Ramadi, as tension spiked following the forced closure of a nearby anti-government protest site.
Monday’s removal of the sprawling protest camp on the edge of the city west of Baghdad was ordered by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has long wanted it gone.
But it will likely inflame already-widespread discontent among Iraq’s minority Sunni Arab community which was largely behind the protests and compound rampant violence.
The fighting on Tuesday killed three gunmen and an Iraqi army sniper, while three militants were wounded, police and a doctor said.
Security forces on Monday killed 10 gunmen in the Ramadi area during clashes that broke out as the protest camp was taken down, while the violence also spread to the nearby city of Fallujah.
There was also political fallout, with 44 MPs, most of them Sunnis, announcing that they had submitted their resignations.
They called for “the withdrawal of the army… and the release of MP Ahmed al-Alwani,” who was arrested during a deadly raid on Saturday.
The raid on Alwani’s house, which sparked clashes that killed his brother, five guards, and a security forces member, has also escalated tensions.
While fighting broke out in the Ramadi area as the camp was closed, it was ultimately shut down without the level of deadly violence that accompanied the last major security forces operation at a protest site.
On April 23, security forces moved on a protest camp outside the northern town of Hawijah, triggering clashes that killed dozens of people, sparking a wave of revenge attacks and sending death tolls soaring.
Maliki’s spokesman, Ali Mussawi, said Monday that tents at the protest site had been removed and the highway towards neighboring Jordan and Syria reopened.
The camp on the highway outside Ramadi, where the number of protesters had ranged from hundreds to thousands, included a stage from which speakers could address crowds, a large roofed structure and dozens of tents.
Protests broke out in Sunni dominated areas of Iraq late last year after the arrest of guards of then-finance minister Rafa al-Essawi on terrorism charges.
Violence in Iraq has reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a period of brutal sectarian killings.
More than 6,800 people have been killed in Iraq violence since the beginning of the year, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.