Members of the Iraqi Dulaim tribe in action in Falluja. (AFP)
Iraqi security forces and allied tribesmen have retaken areas in the central cities of Ramadi and Fallujah from Islamist insurgents. A correspondent in Ramadi for RFE/RL said police forces and their Sunni tribesmen allies had taken back police stations in several neighborhoods in the city that had been ransacked and occupied by militants. But he said some parts of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, were still controlled by the insurgents, and fighting was continuing. He said security forces made less progress against insurgents in nearby Fallujah, where neighborhoods near the highway to Baghdad are controlled by the Al-Qaeda-linked rebels.
Many insurgents took part in Friday Prayers along Fallujah's main street, some carrying black Al-Qaeda flags. There was no clear count of killed and injured from the latest clashes, but some reports spoke of dozens of casualties.
The militants are trying to defend police stations and government buildings they seized on January 1-2, after army forces withdrew on the orders of prime minister Maliki, who hoped that calm would return after the trops left.
Iraqi police, together with armed tribesmen of the Dulaim tribe already on Friday succeeded in reclaiming control of a police station in the Sunni area of one of Anbar’s largest cities, Fallujah, as clashes renewed with al-Qaeda militants, Al Arabiya’s correspondent reported. However, Agence France-Presse reported that the militants advanced Friday into new areas of one major Anbar city and held part of another.
Parts of Ramadi and Fallujah, west of Baghdad, have been held since the beginning of the year. In the 2003 U.S.-led invasion both cities in Anbar were insurgent strongholds.
Iraqi security forces and tribesmen started their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Thursday, after the militants a day earlier stormed police stations in several cities in Anbar, seizing weapon caches and freeing prisoners. Ahmed Abu Risha, head of the "Awakening National Council" – a coalition of tribesmen in Anbar - said “there is an open war against ISIL,” and added that the tribes formed a bloc against the al-Qaeda group with the help of local police.
The Awakening Movement was formed in 2005 to fight against al-Qaeda linked extremists. However, Baghdad’s failure to recruit the Awakening Movement’s fighters into the formal army and the exacerbation of the conflict in Syria have encouraged al-Qaeda to reemerge in the strategically important Anbar province that connects Iraq to Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Fighting between Iraqi security forces and the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and Levant broke out on December 30 when a Sunni protest camp in Ramadi was dismantled by government forces. Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki had vowed to shut down the camp, which had been set up more than one year ago. He said it had gone from a place of peaceful protest to a headquarters for Al-Qaeda forces. One day earlier, on 29 December, Iraqi security forces raided the home of a Sunni MP who backed the anti-government protesters, arresting him and sparking clashes that killed his brother and five guards, police said.
Police said automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades were used in the clashes that erupted during the raid on MP Ahmed Al Alwani’s home in Ramadi, west of Baghdad. Alwani’s brother and five guards were killed, while 18 people, including 10 members of the security forces, were wounded, police and a doctor at Ramadi hospital said.