Iraqi government forces launched an air strike on a city in Anbar on Sunday, killing 25 Islamist militants in an attempt to quell an al-Qaeda offensive in the Sunni province, Reuters reported local officials as saying.
Government officials in western Anbar province have met tribal leaders to urge them to step up their efforts to repel al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who have taken over parts of Ramadi and Fallujah in Anbar, strategic Iraqi cities on the Euphrates River.
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.
The airstrikes came after a senior Iraqi official said that the country’s security forces are preparing for a “major attack” to retake Fallujah from the al-Qaeda-linked militants.
“Iraqi forces are preparing for a major attack in Fallujah,” the official told Agence France-Presse.
On Sunday, Anbar’s Provincial Council confirmed that ISIL has claimed Fallujah.
“ISIL is now controlling Fallujah completely. There is no security apparatus or police,” Hamid al-Hashim, a member of Anbar’s provincial council, told Al Arabiya News Channel Sunday.
ISIL fighters, who have previously attacked police stations in the Sunni province, are “using police vehicles in Fallujah,” he warned.
However, other outlets are saying this information is unconfirmed.
Allied forces of local police and tribesmen made up those fighting the militant group as tribes in Anbar don’t trust the army run by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who they claim have marginalized the Sunnis in the country.
“As a local government we are doing our best to avoid sending the army to Fallujah...now we are negotiating outside the city with the tribes to decide how to enter the city without allowing the army to be involved,” Falih Eisa, a member of Anbar’s provincial council, told Reuters.
But officials on Saturday said eight Iraqi soldiers were killed during clashes in Ramadi and Fallujah, and the country’s security forces killed 55 ISIL fighters in two areas near the Sunni province’s city of Ramadi, signaling some involvement of the army.
Meanwhile, Hashim described tribesmen fighters inside and outside Fallujah as “ready” to go to battle after being equipped with better weapons.
“There is coordination between the army and the tribesmen. The army is the one that is supporting the tribesmen with weapons and everything they need in the battle against the terrorists,” he added.
He also expressed optimism that the tribesmen will be able to retain Fallujah within days.
However, Abdulrahman al-Zawobaiee, head Fallujah’s Tribal Council, gave a whole different description when he said the city was “empty” from any ISIL fighters or extremists brandishing weapons.
“Fallujah is not witnessing any display of armed elements,” he said, adding “these clashes are on the outskirts of the city.”
Some observes mull that tribesmen in Anbar are divided on whether to fight or support ISIL.
The situation in Anbar is still shrouded in mystery.
Anbar’s mayor, Ahmed al-Dulaimi, accused some political factions he didn’t directly identify as collaborating with ISIL, adding that some people arrested confirmed such allegations when they confessed.
On Sunday, Anbar police sacked its chief and appointed Ismail al-Mahlawi as the new head.
Iran prepared to help Iraq
Meanwhile, Iran is prepared to provide equipment and advice to Iraq to help quash al-Qaeda in its Sunni province of Anbar, deputy chief of staff General Mohammad Hejazi said Sunday.
“If the Iraqis ask, we will supply them with equipment and advice, but they have no need of manpower,” Hejazi was cited by the official IRNA news agency as saying.
However, Hejazi said there had not been any request from Iraq to “carry out joint operations against the 'takfiri terrorists,'” a term used to describe extremist Sunnis who denote Shiites as apostates.
Both Iran and Iraq are predominantly Shiite Muslim nations and their governments have strengthened political and economic ties in recent years.
Iran’s statement came after 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.SHOW MORE