'Not possible' for Iraq forces to attack Fallujah now
Published Tuesday 07/01/2014 (updated) 08/01/2014 12:46
A boy cycles past Iraqi soldiers monitoring a checkpoint east of Baghdad
on Jan. 6, 2014 (AFP/Ali Al-Saadi)
RAMADI, Iraq (AFP) -- It is not currently possible for Iraqi security forces to assault Fallujah, seized by Wahhabi militants last week, as the army deployed reinforcements nearby, the defense ministry said Tuesday.
Overnight, security forces failed to recapture south Ramadi from Al-Qaeda-linked militants, while Washington said it would expedite delivery of missiles and surveillance drones to help combat resurgent Al-Qaeda-linked militants.
Parts of Ramadi and all of Fallujah were lost by government forces last week. This is the first time militants have exercised such open control in major cities since the height of the insurgency that followed the 2003 US-led invasion.
"It is not possible to assault it (Fallujah) now" due to concerns about civilian casualties, defense ministry spokesman Staff Lieutenant General Mohammed al-Askari told AFP.
In Ramadi, farther west, fighters loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were still holding the south of the city, after fighting off the overnight assault, police said.
"Security forces and armed tribesmen tried last night to enter areas controlled by ISIL fighters in the south of the city," a police captain in Ramadi told AFP.
"Clashes between the two sides began about 11:00 pm (2000 GMT) last night and continued until 6:00 am," he said, adding that "security forces were not able to enter these areas and ISIL fighters are still in control."
Four civilians were killed and 14 wounded in the fighting, said Ramadi hospital's Dr Ahmed Abdul Salam, who had no casualty figures for security forces or the militants.
Meanwhile, three loud explosions were heard outside Fallujah early Tuesday, a witness said, as the army remained in positions outside the city.
"Today, the army sent new reinforcements, including tanks and vehicles, to an area about 15 kilometers (10 miles) east of Fallujah," a police captain told AFP.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called for residents to expel ISIL militants and avoid an attack. But senior tribal leader Sheikh Ali al-Hammad told AFP Monday that ISIL's fighters had left Fallujah, and that it was now in the hands of tribesmen.
US working with Iraq to isolate Al-Qaeda
As violence in Anbar entered its second week, the Pentagon said Washington would accelerate delivery of 100 Hellfire missiles, which were due to be sent to Iraq in the next few months.
Colonel Steven Warren said an additional 10 ScanEagle surveillance drones would also be delivered.
Hellfire missiles, originally designed as an anti-tank weapon, can be fired from helicopters and warplanes, while ScanEagle drones are a low-cost three-meter aircraft capable of flying for 24 hours.
Warren said Washington was working with Iraq to develop a "holistic strategy to isolate Al Qaeda-affiliated groups so the tribes working with the security forces can drive them out of the populated areas."
But he reiterated statements by US Secretary of State John Kerry that no American forces would enter the fray.
"We'll not be sending forces to Iraq," he said.
Instead, the United States will continue to provide intelligence at a "ministerial level" through some 100 military personnel still based at the US embassy in Baghdad.
Fighting erupted near Ramadi on December 30, when security forces cleared a year-old protest camp where Sunni Muslim Arabs had been demonstrating against what they see as the marginalization and targeting of their minority community by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
The violence spread to Fallujah, and militants moved in and seized the city after security forces withdrew.
Maliki had long sought the closure of the protest camp, dubbing it a "headquarters for the leadership of Al-Qaeda."
But its removal has come at the cost of a sharp decline in the security situation in Anbar.
Both Ramadi and Fallujah were insurgent strongholds in the years after 2003, and Fallujah was the target of two major assaults in which US forces saw some of their heaviest fighting since the Vietnam War.
American forces suffered almost one-third of their Iraq dead in Anbar, according to independent website icasualties.org.
They eventually wrested back control of Anbar from militants, with the support of Sunni Arab tribesmen who formed the Sahwa (Awakening) militias, which allied with US troops against Al-Qaeda from late 2006.
But two years after US forces withdrew from the country, Sunni militants have regained strength, bolstered by the war in neighboring Syria and widespread Sunni Arab anger with the central government.