January 6, 2014 in Nation/World

Iraq airstrikes try to force insurgents from Fallujah

City center held by al-Qaida-linked group
Qassim Abdul-Zahra Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Gunmen patrol after clashes with Iraqi security forces in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, on Sunday.
(Full-size photo)

Kerry, Iran offer support

JERUSALEM – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that the United States will support Iraq’s fight against al-Qaida-linked militants who have overrun two cities, but won’t send in American troops.

Kerry said the militants are trying to destabilize the region and undermine a democratic process in Iraq, and that the U.S. is in contact with tribal leaders in Anbar province who are standing up to the terrorists.

But, he said, “This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis. That is exactly what the president and the world decided some time ago when we left Iraq, so we are not obviously contemplating returning. We are not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight.

“We are very, very concerned about the efforts of al-Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which is affiliated with al-Qaida, who are trying to assert their authority not just in Iraq, but in Syria,” Kerry said.

• In Tehran, a senior Iranian military official said Iran is ready to help Iraq battle al-Qaida “terrorists” in the neighboring country’s Sunni-dominated western Anbar province.

Gen. Mohammad Hejazi, deputy chief-of-staff of Iran’s army, is quoted by Iranian media today as saying the Islamic republic can offer “military equipment and advisers” should Baghdad ask for it.

Hejazi said: “Iraq is our friend.”

He ruled out sending troops to Iraq.

BAGHDAD – The Iraqi military tried to dislodge al-Qaida militants in Sunni-dominated Anbar province Sunday, unleashing airstrikes and besieging the regional capital in fighting that killed at least 34 people, officials said. A series of bombs in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad, meanwhile, killed at least 20 people.

The recent gains by the insurgents have been a blow to the Shiite-led government as sectarian violence has escalated since the U.S. withdrawal. Video of the airstrikes in Anbar – apparently taken by aircraft at night – was released by Iraq’s Defense Ministry showing al-Qaida hideouts being bombarded. It showed men gathered around a vehicle, then running away as the site was struck.

A ministry statement said the air force struck a militants’ hideout overnight, identifying them as belonging to the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which the government refers to as “terrorists.”

The army and allied tribesmen also fought al-Qaida militants around the provincial capital of Ramadi on Sunday, two Anbar government officials said. They said 22 soldiers and 12 civilians were killed, along with an unknown number of militants, and 58 people were wounded. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Clans inside Fallujah have started to form brigades, they said, and some factions who fought the Americans following the U.S.-led invasion a decade ago say they do not want the Iraqi army to enter the city. There was no fighting inside the city Sunday.

Government troops, backed by Sunni tribesmen who oppose al-Qaida, have encircled Fallujah for several days, and have entered parts of Ramadi. On Friday, troops bombarded militant positions outside Fallujah with artillery, a military official said on condition of anonymity.

The deadliest attack Sunday in Baghdad took place in the northern Shiite Shaab neighborhood, where two car bombs exploded simultaneously near a restaurant and a tea house. Officials say those blasts killed 10 people and wounded 26.

Authorities said a car bomb ripped through the capital’s eastern Shiite district of Sadr City, killing five and wounding 10. Another bombing killed three civilians and wounded six in a commercial area in the central Bab al-Muadham neighborhood, officials said. Two other bombings killed two civilians and wounded 13, police said.

Clashes have been taking place since Monday in Ramadi and nearby Fallujah, and the Baghdad bombings could be seen as an attempt by militants to distract security forces.

Earlier on Sunday, a senior Iraqi military commander said that it will take a few days to fully dislodge al-Qaida-linked fighters in the two cities.

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