Iraqi forces launch airstrike in al Qaeda expulsion attempt

Iraqi forces launch airstrike in al Qaeda expulsion attempt

PanARMENIAN.Net - Iraqi government forces battling an al Qaeda offensive near the Syrian border launched an air strike on Ramadi city on Sunday, Jan 5 killing 25 Islamist militants, according to local officials, Reuters reported.

Government officials in western Anbar province met tribal leaders to urge them to help repel al Qaeda-linked militants who have taken over parts of Ramadi and Falluja, strategic Iraqi cities on the Euphrates River.

Al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been steadily tightening its grip in the vast Anbar province in recent months in a bid to create a Sunni Muslim state straddling the frontier with Syria.

But last week's capture of positions in Ramadi and large parts of Falluja was the first time in years that Sunni insurgents had taken ground in the province's major cities and held their positions for days.

Local officials and tribal leaders in Ramadi said that 25 suspected militants were killed in the air force strike, which targeted eastern areas of the city early on Sunday.

In Falluja, ISIL's task has been made easier by disgruntled tribesmen who have joined its fight against the government.

"As a local government we are doing our best to avoid sending the army to Falluja ... now we are negotiating outside the city with the tribes to decide how to enter the city without allowing the army to be involved," said Falih Eisa, a member of Anbar's provincial council.

One option being considered to oust al Qaeda from Falluja would be for army units and tribal fighters to form a "belt" around the city, isolating it and cutting supply routes for militants, military and local officials said.

They would also urge residents to leave the city.

"The siege could take days, we are betting on the time to give people a chance to leave the city, weaken the militants and exhaust them," a senior military officer who declined to be named said.

Tension has been running high across Anbar - which borders Syria and was the heart of Iraq's Sunni insurgency after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion - since Iraqi police broke up a Sunni protest last week, resulting in deadly clashes.

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