BAGHDAD — Heavy fighting erupted on Monday between government security forces and tribal gunmen when the police moved to dismantle a Sunni protesters' camp in Ramadi, west of Baghdad in Anbar province, police and local officials said. At least 17 people died in the clashes.
Battles also broke out in other parts of the province, including Fallujah. Officials said that 12 civilians were killed and 26 were wounded in fighting in Ramadi and Hit, a nearby city. In Fallujah, five soldiers were killed and 15 people were wounded.
In scenes reminiscent of 2005, when Anbar was under the control of militants, tribal fighters in Ramadi deployed two tanks and seven Humvees they had seized from the military.
Since last December, the Sunnis have been protesting against what they perceive as discrimination at the hands of the country's Shiite-led government and against tough antiterrorism measures they say target their sect.
Sheik Abdul Malik al-Saadi, a leading Sunni cleric, asked Shiite tribes in southern Iraq not to send their sons to participate in "this blatant aggression on their brothers" in Anbar.
Nikolay Mladenov, the United Nations representative to Iraq, expressed concern and urged restraint, calling on political leaders "to immediately come together to discuss the serious challenges facing the country."
Police officials said that security forces had pulled out of Fallujah and Ramadi and were shelling the areas where the militants were gathered. The forces cut off communications networks and Internet access across Anbar province.
An official at the Ramadi hospital said that many of the wounded were women and children. The official said that the hospital expected to receive more victims, but that ambulances were unable to reach some areas because the heavy fighting was continuing.
A government spokesman, Ali Musawi, said in a statement that "the local police and the tribes in coordination with the local government in Anbar has completed the removal of tents in the sit-in site and opened the streets, and found two car bombs."