Ramadi: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called Monday for Fallujah residents to expel “terrorists” holding the city to avoid an assault by security forces, as they battled gunmen in nearby Ramadi.
Iraq is preparing a “major attack” to retake Fallujah, which has been outside government control for days, while parts of Anbar provincial capital Ramadi, farther west, are also held by al Qaeda-linked fighters.
This is the first time militants have exercised such open control in major cities since the height of the bloody insurgency that followed the US-led invasion of 2003.
Maliki called on “the people of Fallujah and its tribes to expel the terrorists” so “their areas are not subjected to the danger of armed clashes,”state television reported.
Maliki also ordered security forces “not to strike residential areas in Fallujah”, it said.
Meanwhile, continuous fighting between security forces and militants took place in north, northeast and south Ramadi from early Monday, a police major said, while a captain reported clashes east of Fallujah.
And ground forces commander Staff General Ali Ghaidan Majeed said the city should “wait for what is coming”, a reference to the impending assault.
A witness inside Fallujah said fighters from the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were still in control of the city but had lowered their black flags “as a kind of tactic to avoid being targeted by strikes”.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that Washington would provide assistance to Iraqi forces in their battle against the militants, but that it was “their fight” and Washington had no plans to send ground troops.
Iran's deputy chief of staff General Mohammad Hejazi also offered “equipment and advice” to Iraq.
Fighting in Anbar has reportedly killed more than 200 people in just three days, making it the deadliest violence to hit the province in years.