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Iraq reels from the worst violence in five years as Al Qaeda fights off government forces to cling on to seized cities

Tuesday 7 January 2014, by siawi3


Government forces today surrounded Sunni cities Ramadi and Fallujah
Were sized on Wednesday by Al-Qaida in new eruption of violence
Group stormed areas, taking over police stations and freeing prisoners
Some of the worst violence area has seen in many years, reports suggest

By Lizzie Edmonds

PUBLISHED: 16:42 GMT, 3 January 2014 | UPDATED: 16:43 GMT, 3 January 2014

Al-Qaida militants today fought off government forces to hold on to two of Iraq’s main Sunni cities in some of the worst violence the area has seen in years.

Iraqi troops and allied tribesmen today surrounded the western city of Fallujah, firing artillery at up to 150 militants, an anonymous military official said. Troops also made forays into the city of Ramadi, he added.

Al-Qaida’s local branch, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, have held the two cities and nearby towns in western Anbar province since Wednesday.

Violence: Burned vehicles and damaged buildings in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, today

Fighters attacked in a series of assaults on Wednesday, taking over police stations, freeing prisoners and grabbing security forces’ vehicles.

Al-Qaida is reportedly trying to project itself as the champion of the Sunnis. For the past year, many have protested against the government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, saying it discriminates against their community.

Anger was exacerbated over the past week after authorities arrested a senior Sunni politician and dismantled a months-old sit-in in Ramadi.


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In an attempt to calm the situation, al-Maliki pulled some military out to give local police security duties - a top demand of Sunnis.

But after the uprising, the military rushed reinforcements back in - a move supported by allied Sunni tribal fighters.

Government official Dhari al-Rishawi said today clashes - some of the worst in five years - were still underway, adding militants remain in control of Fallujah and some parts of Ramadi, Anbar’s capital.

Crowds: Muslim worshippers crowd a street as they attend open air Friday prayers in Fallujah today. Militants seized the city on Wednesday

On Thursday, government warplanes fired Hellfire missiles - recently supplied by the United States - at some militant positions.

In Fallujah, al-Qaida fighters appeared at Friday prayers on the city’s main streets.

One of them appealed to the worshippers for support, saying his men were there to protect them from the government.

Other fighters circulated through the city in seized police vehicles, saying on loudspeakers, ’We are your brothers from the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant.

’We are here to protect you from the government. We call on you to cooperate with us’

The resident said he saw militants stationed around government buildings, and that a number of families had fled for fear of fighting inside the city, where state services have become sparse.

Deaths: Worshipers look at blood stains at the site of a bomb attack near a Sunni mosque in Kirkuk

Fallujah and Ramadi were major strongholds for Sunni insurgents - including al-Qaida - during the U.S. presence in Iraq, when Sunnis rose up against the Americans and the government.

But al-Qaida’s branch was largely defeated when many Sunni tribes turned against it and helped U.S. forces in battling it.

Many Sunni tribes remain deeply opposed to al-Qaida, even thought they complain of discrimination by al-Maliki’s government.

So far, casualties from the fighting since Wednesday are not known.

Reports today suggest two policemen have been killed and six others wounded when their patrol was attacked by gunmen in speeding cars outside Fallujah.