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Sunni tribesmen seize buildings in Iraqi city

Violence in Fallujah seen as measure of anger in Anbar with Shia-led government accused of neglecting Sunni needs.

Last updated: 01 Jan 2014 23:39
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Sunni Muslim tribesmen in Iraq's Anbar province have seized control of all police stations in Fallujah, with armed men removing all officials from their posts as the army remains positioned outside the city's borders.

Employees were allowed to leave before some government buildings and property were burned on Wednesday, sources told Al Jazeera.

The development follows several days of violence prompted by a deadly raid on the home of Ahmed al-Alwani, a Sunni legislator, and the dismantling of a Sunni protest camp in Anbar.

The forced closure of the site led to clashes on Tuesday between Iraq's security forces and armed men in Ramadi, the provincial capital, with four people dying.

Fighting continued in Ramadi on Wednesday, AFP news agency reported, with armed men burning police stations, but the violence also spread to Baghdad.

The previous day car bombs hit Shia neighbourhoods in the Iraqi capital, killing at least five people, bringing to 23 the number of people killed since Monday.

Troops withdrawn

The series of explosions came as Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, ordered the army to leave Anbar, in order to defuse Sunni unrest and appease parliament members, who threatened to withdraw from his government.

"I call upon politicians to adopt wise stances and not emotional ones away from any move that could help al-Qaeda, terrorists and sectarian partisans," Maliki said in a statement.

Professor Daniel Serwer, a former member of the Iraq Study Group, tells Al Jazeera that Prime Minister Noori Al-Malaki needs to do more.

Maliki also said the Iraqi army would hand over control of cities in Anbar to the local police, a main demand from Sunni politicians who see the army's presence in the province as Maliki's effort to target rivals and consolidate power.

On Monday, seven armed men and three police officers were killed in clashes as security forces took down tents and cleared a Sunni sit-in in Ramadi.

More than 40 Sunni legislators submitted their resignations from parliament, and Sunni ministers threatened to withdraw from the cabinet over the unrest.

Tariq Hashemi, Iraq's exiled Sunni vice president, has also resigned in protest and called on the government of Saudi Arabia for help.

"Enough is enough," Hashemi told Al Jazeera. "Everyone has a cause, but we face two main problems. We lack a unifying project and a country that supports our cause."

Second-class treatment

Sunnis have been staging protests since last December against what they consider as second-class treatment by the Shia-led Maliki government, and against tough anti-terrorism measures they claim are aimed at their sect.

For their part, the government and some tribal leaders in Anbar accuse the protesters of offering shelter for al-Qaeda's local branch to recruit people and plan for attacks.

The raid on the home of Alwani, who has been prominent among the organisers of the Sunni protests, happened over the weekend.

Alwani is sought on terrorism charges for inciting violence against the Shia who came to power after the 2003 US-led invasion that ended Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led regime.

His brother, five guards and two troops were killed in an exchange of fire with security forces when his entourage resisted the arrest.

Government offensive

Government forces have been waging an offensive this month to hunt down al-Qaeda fighters in the deserts of Anbar in a bid to check the violence that has been on rise since the beginning of this year.

More than 8,000 people have been killed in Iraq the past year, according to UN estimates.

The moves in Anbar raise risks of an increased backlash by Iraq's Sunni minority.

The Iraq branch of al-Qaeda, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, issued a statement on Tuesday pledging solidarity with Anbar's Sunnis.

"We and the people of Anbar are standing as a solid block against the wolves trying to move forward," it said.

"The people of Anbar will not accept humiliation."

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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