Fresh clashes erupt in western Iraq

Photo: Fresh clashes erupt in western Iraq / Arab World

Fresh clashes erupted Tuesday in restive western Iraq between tribesmen and al-Qaeda militants trying to enter the city of Ramadi, local media reported, dpa reported.

The fighting was underway in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, as militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were trying to enter the city.

Residents blew up a bridge in eastern Ramadi to prevent militias from entering, a police official told the Alsumaria news website.

At least 10 ISIL members were killed in several parts of Ramadi, including senior ISIL fighter Khaled Ali Nasser.

The militants were apparently taking advantage of tensions in Anbar after security forces cleared out a Sunni protest camp in Ramadi last week. They have taken control of Fallujah, the most populous city in the province.

A local private broadcaster reported that military helicopters shelled areas in the northern outskirts of Fallujah. Clashes erupted between tribesmen and security forces when residential areas were hit, Fallujah TV added.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Monday urged people living in Fallujah to expel al-Qaeda militants before the security forces, who are besieging the city, storm it. The army withdrew from Anbar after breaking up the protest, before ISIL militants seized Fallujah and some areas in Ramadi.

Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr also called on residents of Anbar not to support terrorists and to report them. He called on the military to "spare the cities and civilians the sufferings of war."

This is al-Sadr's second appeal to the army since tensions began in Anbar last week.

Al-Sadr, who has been an influential figure in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in the 2003 US-led invasion, urged al-Maliki last year to engage in direct talks with demonstrators and listen to their demands.

Anbar was the site of major US operations during the 2003 invasion. The US government has said it will speed up the delivery of military equipment to Iraq.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that Iraqi security forces would receive more air-to-surface Hellfire missiles by spring, as well as more reconnaissance drones.

Ten drones would be delivered in the coming weeks, and another 48 in the course of the year, Carney said.

US Vice President Joe Biden on Monday spoke with al-Maliki and the Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi.

He told the premier that the United States "stands with Iraq in its fight against [ISIL] ... and expressed concern for those Iraqis who are suffering at the hands of terrorists," the White House said.

The widening clashes have raised the prospect of a return to the sectarian violence that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007.

According to UN estimates, 8,868 people were killed in 2013, the highest annual death toll in Iraq in five years.

On Tuesday, at least 11 people were killed and 56 injured in bombings and attacks in the central Baquba city and northern Kirkuk.

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