Heavy fighting rages in Iraq's Anbar province

Clashes continue between army and Sunni fighters after gunmen seized control of several police stations

Protesters burn a police vehicle during fighting in Ramadi on Tuesday after security forces uprooted a yearlong sit-in.
Ali al-Mashhadan/Reuters

Heavy fighting continued between the Iraqi military and Sunni fighters in Anbar province Thursday, sparked by a government crackdown on protest camps.

An Interior Ministry official told Agence France-Presse on Thursday that fighters linked to Al-Qaeda controlled large parts of the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi after gunmen seized control of several police stations the day before.

"Half of Fallujah is in the hands of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) group, and the other half is in the control of" armed tribesmen, the official said.

Elsewhere in Iraq on Thursday, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle near car dealerships in Baladruz, north of Baghdad, killing at least 13 people, police and a doctor said, according to AFP.

On Wednesday, gunmen attacked the main police station in Fallujah and ordered its staff to leave, before raiding the armory and freeing more than 100 prisoners from their cells, police said. The fighters torched other police stations in the city, and most police officers abandoned their posts during the clashes.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday ordered reinforcements to the mainly Sunni Arab province to counter attacks by armed groups, reversing a decision made a day earlier to withdraw soldiers from Anbar cities and hand control to police.

The fighting broke out on Monday, when security forces broke up a yearlong sit-in outside the provincial capital, Ramadi, leaving at least 13 people dead, police and medical sources said.

The protests were held by Sunnis angered at what they consider second-class treatment and the Shia-led government's crackdown.

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

After the protest camp was uprooted, 44 members of parliament announced 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 and a leading supporter of the protest camp, was arrested in a raid on his Ramadi home on Saturday in which his brother, five guards and a security forces member died.

Protests broke out in Sunni-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 government targeting their leaders.

Deadly year

A demonstration against Iraq's Shia-led government in January 2013 in Ramadi.
Khalid Mohammed/AP

The United Nations said Wednesday that violence claimed the lives of 7,818 civilians in Iraq in 2013, the highest annual death toll since 2008.

Violence spiked in April after the government staged a deadly crackdown on a Sunni protest camp. There were fears that the country would return to the sectarian bloodshed it experienced from 2004 to 2007. 

Nickolay Mladenov, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, called on Iraqis to take immediate measures to stop the violence.

"This is a sad and terrible record which confirms once again the urgent need for the Iraqi authorities to address the roots of violence to curb this infernal circle," a statement from Mladenov read.

Al Jazeera and wire services

Related News

Iraq, Middle East

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Iraq, Middle East

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter