RAMADI, Iraq - Police were on Monday dismantling Iraq's main anti-government protest site, which Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has termed a "headquarters for the leadership of Al-Qaeda", Iraqiya state TV said.
"Local police are removing the tents from the protest site in Anbar" province, Iraqiya said in a text alert that was followed by another saying the move came after an agreement between security forces, religious leaders and tribal sheikhs.
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 politician, on terrorism charges.
The arrests were seen by Iraqi Sunnis as yet another example of the Shiite-led government targeting one of their leaders.
But the demonstrations have tapped into deeper grievances, with Sunnis saying they are both marginalised by the Shiite-led government and unfairly targeted with heavy-handed tactics by security forces.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said this month that the protest site near Ramadi had become a headquarters for Al-Qaeda, and called on legitimate demonstrators to leave.
"I say clearly and honestly that the sit-in site in Anbar has turned into a headquarters for the leadership of Al-Qaeda," Maliki, a Shiite, said in remarks broadcast on state television.
He called on "those who are with them in this place who refuse sabotage and who have legal or illegal demands... to leave these camps, and leave this place, so that Al-Qaeda stays alone," adding protesters had a "very short period" in which to leave.
Violence in Iraq has surged to a level not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings.
More than 6,750 people have been killed in violence since the beginning of the year, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.