RAMADI, Iraq, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Police moved to dismantle a Sunni protest camp in Iraq's western Anbar province on Monday after tribal leaders and local government and defence ministry officials reached a deal, officials said.
Thousands of Sunnis have taken to the streets in the region to protest what they see as marginalisation of their minority sect since December 2012.
Hardline Sunni militants linked to al Qaeda have meanwhile stepped up attacks on government targets and Shi'ite civilians. More than 8,000 people have been killed in violence this year, according to the United Nations.
Clashes broke out in Ramadi, the western city where the protest camp is located, when gunmen opened fire on police special forces called in from Baghdad as they tried to enter the city, police sources said.
The gunmen destroyed four police vehicles and killed at least three policemen in the northern part of Ramadi, one source said. Gunshots and blasts could be heard in parts of the city.
Defence Ministry spokesman Lieutenant-General Mohammed al-Askari told state television the camp would be removed by police and claimed that al Qaeda-linked leaders had been sheltering in the camp.
"An agreement was reached after marathon talks late Sunday for the protest tents to be removed by local police and without the involvement of the army," he said.
Some police sources and local officials in Ramadi said tents were still standing in the camp although police and army forces had surrounded the area.
In Falluja, gunmen attacked army patrols deployed along the main highway leading to Ramadi.
Many Sunnis resent Shi'ite domination of Iraq's politics since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 and empowered majority Shi'ites through the ballot box.
The invasion was followed by an insurgency that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war.
(Reporting by Kamal Namaa; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Alexander Dziadosz and Angus MacSwan)