Is Sunni revolution against Iraq ‘dictator’ looming?
Fresh clashes between Iraqi security forces and gunmen in Ramadi killed four people on Tuesday, as tension spiked following the closure of a nearby Sunni Arab anti-government protest site.
Monday's removal of the sprawling protest camp on the edge of the city west of Baghdad was a victory of sorts for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has long wanted it gone.
But while the camp's closure removed a physical sign of deep-seated grievances among Sunni Arabs, it leaves underlying issues unaddressed and will likely inflame already-widespread anger among the minority community.
The fighting on Tuesday killed three gunmen and an Iraqi army sniper, while three militants were wounded, police and a doctor said.
A journalist in Ramadi reported sporadic clashes in the city, which was under curfew, and said items including food and petrol were in short supply.
Security forces killed 10 gunmen on Monday in the Ramadi area during clashes as the protest camp was taken down, while violence spread to the nearby city of Fallujah.
There was also political fallout, with 44 MPs, most of them Sunnis, announcing they had submitted their resignations.
They called for "the withdrawal of the army... and the release of MP Ahmed al-Alwani," a Sunni who was arrested during a deadly raid on Saturday.
The raid on Alwani's house, which sparked clashes that killed his brother, five guards and a security forces member, also raised tensions.
While fighting broke out in the Ramadi area as the camp was closed, it was ultimately shut down without the level of deadly violence that accompanied the last major security forces operation at a protest site.
On April 23, security forces moved on a protest camp outside the northern town of Hawijah, triggering clashes that killed dozens of people, sparking a wave of revenge attacks and sending death tolls soaring.
Iraqiya state TV said on Monday the removal of the camp came after an agreement between security forces, religious leaders and tribal sheikhs, while the lack of a Hawijah-level death toll pointed to the possibility of some type of deal.
Maliki's spokesman, Ali Mussawi, said on Monday tents at the protest site had been removed and the highway towards neighbouring Jordan and Syria reopened.
This was done "without any losses, after Al-Qaeda and its members escaped from the camp to the city, and they are being pursued now," Mussawi said.
He was echoing a charge made on December 22 by Maliki who said "the sit-in site in Anbar (province) has turned into a headquarters for the leadership of Al-Qaeda".
The camp on the highway outside Ramadi, where the number of protesters had ranged from hundreds to thousands, included a stage from which speakers could address crowds, a large roofed structure and dozens of tents.
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 Shiite-led government targeting one of their leaders.
In December 2011, guards of vice president Tareq al-Hashemi, another prominent Sunni politician, were arrested and accused of terrorism. Hashemi fled abroad and has since been given multiple death sentences in absentia for charges including murder.
The demonstrations tapped into longstanding grievances of Sunni Arabs, who say they are both marginalised by the government and unfairly targeted by security forces.
While the government has made some concessions aimed at placating Sunnis, including freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of anti-Qaeda militiamen, underlying issues remain unaddressed.
Violence in Iraq has reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was emerging from a period of brutal sectarian killings.
Attacks elsewhere in the country also killed at least four people on Tuesday.
More than 6,800 people have been killed in Iraq violence since the beginning of the year, according to figures based on security and medical sources.