BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, seeking to contain Sunni unrest, called on his Sunni political rivals Tuesday not to withdraw from the government over the dismantling of a protest camp that led to deadly clashes in a major western city.
More than 40 Sunni lawmakers submitted their resignations from parliament, and Sunni ministers threatened to withdraw from the Cabinet, over the unrest in the western province of Anbar. Seven gunmen and three police officers were killed in clashes Monday as security forces took down tents and cleared a Sunni sit-in in the provincial capital, Ramadi.
Prime Minister Nouri al-
Maliki said Tuesday that the army will leave cities in Anbar. He called on the armed forces to “devote themselves to continue operations pursuing al-Qaeda hideouts in the desert of Anbar” but said the military would “turn over the administration of the cities to the local and federal police,” according to a statement from his office.
Police and local officials in western Ramadi in Anbar said clashes between gunmen and security forces were continuing inside the city Tuesday.
Sunnis have been staging protests since December 2012 against what they consider second-class treatment by the Shiite-led government and against tough anti-terrorism measures that they say target their sect of Islam.
The government and some tribal leaders in Anbar accused the protesters of offering shelter for al-Qaeda’s local branch to recruit people and plan for attacks.
“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.
The unrest in Anbar followed the weekend arrest of a Sunni lawmaker, Ahmed al-Alwani, who has been prominent among the organizers of the protests.
Alwani is sought on terrorism charges, accused of inciting violence against Shiites who came to power after the 2003 U.S.-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 forces have waged an offensive over the past month to hunt down al-Qaeda fighters in the deserts of Anbar in a bid to stem violence that has been on rise since the beginning of 2013. More than 8,000 people have been killed in Iraq over the past year, according to U.N. 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 Tuesday vowing solidarity with Anbar’s Sunnis.
Bombs exploded across Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, on Tuesday, killing at least 15 people, according to police and medical sources. No group immediately claimed responsibility for any of those attacks.