(Reuters) - Fighting erupted when Iraqi police broke up a Sunni Muslim protest camp in the western Anbar province on Monday, leaving at least 13 people dead, police and medical sources said.
The camp has been an irritant to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite Muslim-led government since Sunni protesters set it up a year ago to demonstrate against what they see as marginalization of their sect.
The operation triggered an immediate political backlash as dozens of Sunni lawmakers offered their resignations.
Maliki, who is seeking a third term in April's elections, has repeatedly vowed to remove the camp and accused protesters of stirring strife and sheltering al Qaeda-linked militants.
Violence has spiked this year as al Qaeda-linked militants target the government and anyone seen to be supporting it, raising fears of a return to the sectarian conflict of 2006-7 that killed tens of thousands. Another 11 people died in separate attacks across Iraq on Monday.
Police sources said Monday's clashes broke out when gunmen opened fire on police special forces trying to enter Ramadi, the western city where the protest camp is located.
The gunmen destroyed four police vehicles and killed at least three policemen in the north of Ramadi, one source said.
The bodies of 10 other people killed in the clashes were brought into Ramadi's morgue, hospital and morgue sources said. In Falluja, gunmen attacked army patrols deployed along the main highway leading to Ramadi.