Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Deadly clashes were reported in the city of Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar province as Baghdad government spokesman Mohammad Al-Askari claimed that a deal had been reached to end the months-long protest in the flashpoint western city.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Monday that security forces were deployed near the protest site and helicopters were seen firing into the area, adding that two security forces vehicles were on fire and gunmen had seized a third. AFP also said that at least one person had been killed and ten others wounded.
The reports of violence came as Iraqi state TV reported that “local police are removing the tents from the protest site in Anbar” following an agreement between security forces and tribal sheikhs.
For his part, Askari claimed that there was no violence during the police action.
“An agreement was reached after marathon talks late Sunday for the protest tents to be removed by local police and without the involvement of the army,” he said.
He added that the deal to end the protest had been agreed after the authorities warned the protest encampment was sheltering Al-Qaeda fighters.
Iraqi prime minster Nuri Al-Maliki had earlier made similar claims. “I say clearly and honestly that the sit-in site in Anbar has turned into a headquarters for the leadership of Al-Qaeda,” he said.
He called on the protesters in Anbar to return to their homes “so that Al-Qaeda stays alone,” warning protesters that they had a “very short period” in which to leave.
Iraq’s Sunni minority has been staging protests against the Maliki government since last December, condemning what they claim is second-class treatment at the hands of the country’s Shi’ite majority, and demanding the abolition of laws they believe targets them unfairly.
The latest round of violence comes after Sunni MP Ahmed Al-Alwani was arrested in Ramadi on terrorism charges on Saturday following a police raid on his home. Six people were reported killed in the raid, including Alwani’s brother, following a two-hour firefight that broke out when bodyguards and members of Alwani’s tribe attempted to resist security forces.
Alwani, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya List, has been a strong critic of Maliki and an influential figure in the protest movement.
Zafir Al-Ani, spokesman for the opposition group the Mutahidoun Coalition, denied media reports that Alwani had been released on Monday.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat before Monday’s violence and claims of a Baghdad-Anbar protest deal, Ani revealed that Iraqi political leaders were set to meet with Anbar protest leaders in the Kurdish capital Erbil to discuss the political crisis that has engulfed the country. It is not known whether this opposition summit is still set to take place following Monday’s events.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Political efforts to reconcile with the government are almost spent, and Alwani has not been released, despite his parliamentarian immunity.”
In a news conference on Saturday, former prime minister and current leader of the Iraqiya List, Iyad Allawi, said that the coalition had formed a committee to negotiate with Maliki for the immediate release of Alwani.
However, Maliki’s media adviser Ali Moussawi affirmed that Baghdad rejected any talks with the Iraqiya List. “The Alwani case is being dealt with by the judiciary and they have the final say in releasing him or not,” he said.
He denied there had been talks between the government and Iraqiya.
Iraqi parliamentary speaker and Mutahidoun Coalition leader Osama Al-Nujaifi had earlier described Alwani’s arrest as “treading on the core of the Iraqi constitution, and a clear violation of its articles.”