Iraqi security forces are preparing a “major attack” to retake the city of Fallujah from al-Qaeda-linked militants, a senior government official told Agence France-Presse on Sunday.
“Iraqi forces are preparing for a major attack in Fallujah,” the official said.
Parts of Anbar’s Ramadi and Fallujah cities, west of Baghdad, have been held by militants for days, harkening back to the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion when both cities were insurgent strongholds.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki vowed to eliminate “all terrorist groups” from Anbar, while the country’s security forces killed 55 al-Qaeda-linked fighters in two areas near the Sunni province’s city of Ramadi.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced confidence on Sunday the Iraqi government and tribes would be successful in their fight against al-Qaeda, and said Washington was not considering sending troops back to Iraq.
“This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis ... We are not contemplating returning.” Kerry said during a trip to Israel.
“We will help them in their fight, but this fight, in the end, they will have to win and I am confident they can.”
The United States said it was keeping track of developments in Iraq’s Anbar province, condemning al-Qaeda-linked fighters for committing “barbarism.”
“Their barbarism against civilians of Ramadi and Fallujah and against Iraqi Security Forces is on display for all to see,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.
Harf said the U.S. was in “close contact” both with Iraq’s political leaders and with “tribal leaders from Anbar province who are showing great courage as they fight to eject these terrorist groups from their cities.”
Hamid al-Hashim, member of Anbar’s provincial council, told Al Arabiya News Channel on Saturday that the inner part of Fallujah city has fallen under ISIL’s control for the past three days.
But he said “tribes in the western areas in Fallujah were heroic in their fight against ISIL, and are currently reorganizing themselves to liberate the city.”
The allied forces of local police and tribesmen made up those fighting the militant group, but officials said eight Iraqi soldiers were killed Saturday during clashes in Ramadi and Fallujah.
On Friday alone, fighting between police and allied tribesmen on one side and ISIL militants on the other, killed more than 100 people in Ramadi and Fallujah, security officials said.
Hashim said “police are now being equipped with newer and more fatal weapons” and the tribes in Anbar have succeeded in recruiting 1,500 men to push ISIL away from the city.