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Militants free 100 prisoners, burn police stations in Iraq

02 January, 2014

RAMADI: Militants freed more than 100 prisoners, clashed with security forces and burned police stations in cities west of the Iraqi capital on Wednesday, police and an AFP journalist said.

Gunmen attacked the headquarters in the city of Fallujah but gave the police a chance to leave, which they took, officers said, after which the militants freed 101 prisoners and stole weapons.

In Ramadi, farther west, security forces clashed sporadically with militants, who burned four police stations in the city, an AFP journalist said.

The journalist saw four torched police stations in Ramadi, one of which was still on fire, and said two military vehicles had also been burned.

Clashes erupted in the Ramadi area on Monday as security forces dismantled the country's main Sunni Arab anti-government protest camp, which was located on a nearby highway.

At least 14 people, all but one of them militants, died in violence in the area on Monday and Tuesday.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Tuesday that troops would pull out of cities in Anbar province, of which Ramadi is the capital, in a move apparently aimed at defusing tensions in the wake of the camp's closure.

The AFP journalist said that soldiers had moved to an area west of Ramadi on Wednesday.

The withdrawal was one of the demands that 44 MPs made on Monday at a news conference during which they announced they had submitted their resignations.

In another move apparently aimed at placating Anbar residents, the cabinet decided on Tuesday to provide aid to the province.

The oil, trade and health ministries were to provide food, fuel and medical items, and other ministries would also give "support and necessary services to Anbar province", the cabinet said.

The removal of the camp was a victory of sorts for Maliki, who had long wanted it gone and had termed it a "headquarters for the leadership of al Qaeda".

But while its closure removed a physical sign of deep-seated grievances among Sunni Arabs, their complaints of being marginalised by Shia-led authorities and unfairly targeted by security forces remain un-addressed.

Protests broke out in Sunni Arab-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 Shia-led government targeting one of their leaders.

In the northern city of Mosul, a car bomb exploded near an army checkpoint on Wednesday, killing a civilian, four soldiers, among them three officers, and wounding 11 people. Violence in Iraq has reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings.

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