Iraqi security forces have battled with al Qaeda-linked militants who seized control of Sunni-majority cities this week. The fighting erupted after a Sunni lawmaker was arrested and a protest camp dismantled.
This came a day after a series of attacks by the militants, in which they reportedly took control of a number of police stations and military posts across several cities in Iraq’s western Anbar province.
Thursday’s worst fighting came in the city of Fallujah, according to the Iraqi armed forces.
“We entered Fallujah with heavy clashes,” special forces commander Major General Fadhel al-Barwari said in statement cited by the AFP news agency.
Police said fighting had also broken out in the provincial capital, Ramadi. There was no immediate word on casualties.
Already existing tensions in Anbar province escalated last weekend following the arrest of a Sunni parliamentarian, Ahmed al-Awani, on terrorism charges. More than 40 other mainly Sunni lawmakers responded by tendering their resignations.
On Monday, government forces moved in to dismantle a Sunni protest camp in Ramadi, triggering clashes with the militants.
At one stage, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the military to pull back from Anbar to allow local police to handle security, something that Sunni politicians had demanded. However, after the militants attacked several cities in the province, the prime minister ordered military reinforcements back in.
Also on Thursday, at least 16 people were killed after a suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives near automobile showrooms in the town of Balad Ruz, around 50 kilometers (31 miles) southeast of Baquba. More than 20 others were wounded in the attack, according to local officials.
Violence in Iraq increased sharply after the mainly Shiite government launched a deadly crackdown on another Sunni protest camp last April.
More than 8,800 people were killed in Iraq in 2013, according to United Nations estimates, making it the deadliest 12 months the country has experienced in five years.
pfd/se (dpa, AFP, AP)