Government officials in western Anbar province met tribal leaders
to urge them to help repel al Qaeda-linked militants who have taken
over parts of Ramadi and Falluja, strategic Iraqi cities on the
Al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been
steadily tightening its grip in the vast Anbar province in recent
months in a bid to create a Sunni Muslim state straddling the
frontier with Syria.
But last week's capture of positions in Ramadi and large parts of
Falluja was the first time in years that Sunni insurgents had taken
ground in the province's major cities and held their positions for
Local officials and tribal leaders in Ramadi said that 25 suspected
militants were killed in the air force strike, which targeted
eastern areas of the city early on Sunday.
In Falluja, ISIL's task has been made easier by disgruntled
tribesmen who have joined its fight against the government.
"As a local government we are doing our best to avoid sending the
army to Falluja ... now we are negotiating outside the city with the
tribes to decide how to enter the city without allowing the army to
be involved," said Falih Eisa, a member of Anbar's provincial
One option being considered to oust al Qaeda from Falluja would be
for army units and tribal fighters to form a "belt" around the city,
isolating it and cutting supply routes for militants, military and
local officials said.
They would also urge residents to leave the city.
"The siege could take days, we are betting on the time to give
people a chance to leave the city, weaken the militants and exhaust
them," a senior military officer who declined to be named said.
Tension has been running high across Anbar — which borders Syria and
was the heart of Iraq's Sunni insurgency after the 2003 U.S.-led
invasion — since Iraqi police broke up a Sunni protest last week,
resulting in deadly clashes.
TRIBAL LEADERS HESITANT
In Tehran, the deputy chief of staff of Iran's armed forces for
logistics and industrial research, Brigadier-General Mohammad
Hejazi, was reported as saying on Sunday that Iran was ready to
provide Iraq with "military equipment or consultation" to help the
Iraqi army in Anbar if it were asked to do so.
The Tasnim news agency quoted him as adding however that he did not
think the Iraqi army would need a deployment of Iranian troops,
because they already had sufficient manpower.
Iran is an ally of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite
[to top of second column]
Talks between Iraqi government officials and tribes made little
headway on Sunday, with some tribal leaders hesitant to negotiate at
all and others afraid of opposing al Qaeda, which has carried out
numerous bombings and assassinations in Iraq.
"The militants told people in Falluja that they won't harm them and
they are there in Falluja to exclusively fight the army, so this is
the deal between the leaders in Falluja and the militants," a Sunni
official involved in the negotiations in Anbar said.
Further west, across the porous border in Syria, al Qaeda fighters
have captured swathes of land in the north and are battling with
other Islamist brigades as well as the Syrian army.
The relationship between the fighters in Iraq and Syria is unclear,
even though they refer to themselves as coming from the same group.
Baghdad has said al Qaeda fighters from Syria are crossing into Iraq
and have helped drive violence there to its worst levels in five
In Iraq, al Qaeda fighters had been controlling large parts of the
desert in western Iraq along the Syrian border but have been driven
back by a military campaign in recent days aimed at preventing them
In Ramadi, where tribesmen and the army have been working together
to counter the al Qaeda insurgents, ISIL snipers positioned
themselves on rooftops and fought small battles in the city.
ISIL fighters held on to their positions in the outskirts of Falluja
and have used police and government vehicles inside the city for
patrols, some flying a black flag associated with al Qaeda from the
A tribal leader involved in negotiations in Falluja said the number
of ISIL fighters in the outskirts of the city was insignificant and
that fighting them might make matters worse.
"There is no reason to fight them and threaten the unity of the
Sunni people. We believe that those who decide to fight alongside
the government are wrong," he said.
(Writing by Sylvia Westall; editing by William Maclean, Ralph
Boulton and Eric Walsh)
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