Fighting kills 32 civilians in Iraq's Anbar: officials

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Smoke billows from a police car following clashes between Jihadists and Iraqi forces backed by tribesmen in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, West of Baghdad, on January 1, 2014. (Photo: AFP - Azhar Shallal)

Published Friday, January 3, 2014

Update 7:05 pm: Fighting killed at least 32 civilians on Friday in the Anbar province cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, where Al-Qaeda-linked militants took over areas this week, security officials said.

Police and tribesmen in both cities are battling militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, which operates in both Iraq and Syria, the sources said.

Dressed in black and waving al-Qaeda flags, hundreds of Islamist insurgents using machine guns and pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns battled tribesmen in the streets of the city of Ramadi on Friday, witnesses, security officials and tribal sources said.

The deployment of tribesmen against the militants was made possible by a deal tribal leaders struck with the Baghdad government late on Thursday to counter al-Qaeda, which has seized government and police buildings in Ramadi and the province's other main city Falluja, tribal leaders told Reuters on Friday.

"There is no way to let al Qaeda keep any foothold in Anbar," said one tribal leader, who asked not to be named. "The battle is fierce and not easy because they are hiding inside residential areas."

Fighters from the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) advanced in early morning clashes into areas in central Ramadi and deployed snipers on one street, a police captain said to Reuters.

The police colonel said the army had re-entered areas of Fallujah, between Ramadi and Baghdad, but that a around a quarter of it remained under ISIL control.

Soldiers and armed tribesmen held the rest and had also surrounded the city, he said.

However, another senior officer, a police lieutenant colonel, said that while soldiers had deployed around the city they had yet to enter Fallujah.

The city was the target of two major assaults after the 2003 illegal invasion of Iraq by the British and the Americans, in which American forces used depleted uranium shells and nearly flattened the city.

But two years after US forces completed their withdrawal from Iraq, the power of militants in the province is again on the rise.

Clashes erupted in the Ramadi area on Monday as security forces tore down the country's main anti-government protest camp.

The site was one of several that sprang up after mainly Sunni Iraqis, with others, began protesting in late 2012, condemning what they called the marginalization of their minority community and its unfair targeting in heavy-handed security forces tactics.

The violence in Ramadi spread to Fallujah, and a subsequent withdrawal of security forces from areas of both cities cleared the way for ISIL to move in.

Police and tribal fighters battled ISIL in east Ramadi on Thursday, but the fighting eased after several hours with militants still controlling some areas.
Iraqi special forces also clashed with militants in Fallujah on Thursday, their commander said.

At least 14 people were killed on Monday and Tuesday in Ramadi, but casualties from the later clashes there and in Fallujah were not immediately clear.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had long sought the closure of the protest camp near Ramadi that was demolished on Monday, dubbing it a "headquarters for the leadership of Al-Qaeda".

But the removal of the camp has come at the cost of a sharp decline in the security situation in Anbar province.

And while the camp's closure has removed a physical sign of Sunni Arab grievances, the perceived injustices that underpinned the demonstration remain unaddressed.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP, Reuters)


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