Militants challenge Iraqi government in Fallujah

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

The Iraqi government has been urging residents to expel Sunni Muslim militants who have seized control of the city of Fallujah, in central Anbar province, west of Baghdad.

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It comes amid reports that the government is preparing to send in troops to try to force the militants out.

Darren Mara has this report.

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Fighting erupted in the city of Ramadi on Monday, when security forces removed a camp, set up to protest against what Sunni Muslims say is the marginalisation and targeting of their community in Shi’ite-majority Iraq.

It then spread to nearby Fallujah, and when security forces later withdrew from areas of both cities, they were left open to militants from the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

ISIL, which is linked to al-Qaeda, has said its aim is to create an Sunni Muslim state stretching across Iraq and Syria.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called on residents in Fallujah to expel the ISIL militants in order to avoid an all-out assault by the military.

Advisor to the Prime Minister, Ali Al Musawi, told the BBC the government wants locals to take control of the conflict themselves.

“The co-ordination between army and tribesmen is progressing in leaps and bounds. The army provides the tribes with weapons and everything they need in this battle against the terrorists. I think this issue will be resolved within a day or two days to expel the armed groups.”

Tribal leader Sheik Ali Al-Megemdi says locals are relying on the support of police forces and the military to regain control of the area.

“Tribesmen are in constant communication to impose security and expel armed men out of the city. We are about to recall the police forces to the city to assume security responsibility after the artillery shelling stops. There have been many casualties and wounded in the city because of the shelling.”

United States Secretary of State John Kerry — who is currently in the Middle East — says America will provide assistance to Iraqi forces in their battle against the militants, but it has no plans to send troops back into Iraq.

“We’re going to do everything that is possible to help them. We’re in contact with tribal leaders from Anbar province whom we know who are showing great courage in standing up against this as they reject terrorist groups from their cities. And this is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis. So we are not, obviously, contemplating returning. We’re not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight.”

One militant group, calling itself the Fallujah Military Council, has vowed to punish anyone in the city who supports the government.

“The revolutionaries of our tribes in Fallujah have resolved to punish the tribesmen who support the sectarian government forces, and to join the military council. The revolutionaries are also determined to shoulder the responsibility of foiling the filthy scheme run by government.”

The unrest in Anbar province has reportedly killed more than 200 people in three days, making it the deadliest violence to hit the province in years.

Both Ramadi and Fallujah were insurgent strongholds in the years after the 2003 US led invasion of Iraq.

American troops eventually regained control of the province before they withdrew in 2011, handing over security responsibility to Iraqi forces.

Despite the withdrawal of its forces, the US remains a key security and defence partner to the Iraqi government, providing more than $14 billion worth of weapons since 2005.

 

 

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