Iraqi air force strikes city to try to oust al Qaeda

BAGHDAD Sun Jan 5, 2014 12:01pm EST

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi government forces battling an al Qaeda offensive near the Syrian border launched an air strike on Ramadi city on Sunday killing 25 Islamist militants, according to local officials.

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 Euphrates River.

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 days.

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 council.

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

Talks between 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 years.

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 taking land.

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 Fallujah and have used police and government vehicles inside the city for patrols, some flying a black flag associated with al Qaeda from the vehicles.

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 and Ralph Boulton)

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Comments (2)
clep wrote:
Maps! Maps! Show us where you are talking about.

Jan 05, 2014 12:22pm EST  --  Report as abuse
MikeBarnett wrote:
The US can and should provide arms for the Shia regime of Maliki as long as he talks to Sunni tribal leaders who want to remove al Qaeda and other islamic insurgents. Selective air strikes may be needed, but they should be away from population centers, if possible. US arms and munitions will not cost US casualties in Iraq’s uncivil war if US troops stay out of the country.

The problem for the US was the illegal invasion by Bush and Cheney that exceeded all UN resolutions. Then, these war criminals made the stupid blunder of staying beyond the 60 to 90 days provided by the War Powers Resolution of 1973. The US has the military power to bomb, invade, remove the regime, set up a new regime, force it to sign a peace treaty, and withdraw within 60 to 90 days. If the US cannot achieve its military objectives in a third world country in 60 to 90 days, it cannot achieve its military objectives in that country in 60 to 90 years. The US should have suffered only 150 dead and 1350 wounded instead of the 4,500 dead and 33,000 wounded that Bush and Cheney murdered with their idiotic decision to stay.

Jan 05, 2014 5:10pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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