Iraqi tribes cooperating with the government’s security forces have regained control of most of the city of Ramadi from fighters linked to al-Qaeda, a tribal leader said.
“We are in control of 90 percent of Ramadi city,” Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha said in a phone interview today from Anbar province, the region in largely Sunni western Iraq where fighting has flared in the past two weeks. “The battle is ongoing to free the rest.”
Abu Risha said the situation in Fallujah, another town in Anbar, is “more complicated.” He said fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant “control the city-center of Fallujah entirely, and we are planning to isolate the people of Fallujah from them, because we are trying to avoid casualties among citizens.” He said, “Very soon you will hear great news from Fallujah.”
Iraq’s Shiite Muslim-led government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been fighting to regain control of parts of Anbar taken over by ISIL fighters and their allies. The conflict is part of sectarian violence that has spread in Iraq, fanned by the civil war in neighboring Syria, where mostly Sunni rebels including ISIL are fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
About 60 people have been killed and 297 injured since military operations began in Anbar last week, al-Jazeera reported, citing the province’s health department.
‘Caught in Middle’
At least 10 civilians died during shelling of Ramadi by government forces on Jan. 9, Muhannad al-Dulaimi, a spokesman for the department, said by phone. Late yesterday, artillery strikes were being directed at the south and southwest of Ramadi, he said. Many residents have fled to avoid the threat from both al-Qaeda and the army shelling, he said.
The al-Sumaria news agency also reported strikes by the army against the town of Garma, east of Fallujah.
Human Rights Watch, in a Jan. 9 report, accused Iraqi authorities of exposing civilians to danger by using “indiscriminate mortar fire,” and said a government blockade of Fallujah and Ramadi also has cut off access to food, water and fuel for the population. It said the government has failed to protect civilians who’ve been “caught in the middle” of the fighting between the army and militants.
Both the U.S. and Iran have offered to help Maliki’s government in its battle against the Islamists.
Risks that the fighting may hurt oil output in OPEC’s second-biggest producer are increasing, Barclays Plc said in a Jan. 6 report. Last month, crude production rose by 100,000 barrels a day to 3.2 million barrels, according to a Bloomberg survey.
Abu Risha said he had “urged the tribes in Ramadi to fight the ISIL militants.” Some tribes have been fighting alongside the al-Qaeda group.
He’s head of the Awakening Council in Anbar, one of the bodies set up under the U.S. occupation of Iraq after its invasion in 2003, to forge ties between Sunni tribes and the U.S. military and solicit their support against extremists.
Abu Risha’s brother also headed the council, and met with President George W. Bush in 2007, before being assassinated by an al-Qaeda-linked group later that year.
“We have returned to lead the war against terrorism just like we were in 2006,” Abu Risha said.