Al-Qaeda-Linked ISIS Captures Fallujah from Iraqi Forces
The Iraqi government has lost control of Fallujah to Al-Qaeda-linked militants, a senior security official said Saturday, after days of fighting sparked by an anti-government protest camp’s removal.
Parts of the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, west of Baghdad, have been held by militants for days.
Fighting erupted in the Ramadi area Monday, when security forces removed the main anti-government protest camp set up after demonstrations broke out in late 2012 against what minority Sunnis say is the marginalization and targeting of their community.
Anger at the government among the Sunni minority is seen as one of the main drivers of the worst violence to hit Iraq in five years.
“Fallujah is under the control of ISIS,” a senior security official in Anbar province told AFP, referring to al-Qaeda-linked group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
However, the city’s outskirts were in the hands of local police, the official added.
An AFP journalist in Fallujah also said that ISIS seemed to be in control, with no security forces or Sahwa anti-al-Qaeda militiamen visible on the streets.
More than 100 people were killed on Friday during fighting in Ramadi and Fallujah, in the country’s deadliest single day in years.
Fourteen died in and near Ramadi on Monday and Tuesday, while later tolls were not immediately clear.
Hundreds of gunmen, some bearing the black flags often flown by jihadists, gathered at outdoor weekly Muslim prayers in central Fallujah on Friday, a witness said.
One went to where the prayer leader had stood, and said: “We announce that Fallujah is an Islamic state and call you to stand by our side.”
Fallujah was the target of two major assaults after the 2003 invasion, in which American forces saw some of their heaviest fighting since the Vietnam War.
American troops fought for years, aided by Sunni tribesmen in the Sahwa militia forces from late 2006, but ultimately failed to conquer the city.
US forces suffered almost one-third of their total Iraq fatalities in Anbar, according to independent website icasualties.org.
Clashes erupted in the Ramadi area on Monday as security forces tore down the sprawling anti-government protest camp.
The violence then spread to Fallujah, and a subsequent withdrawal of security forces from areas of both cities cleared the way for ISIS to move in.