Al Qaeda militants seize parts of two Iraqi cities

Baghdad, Jan 2 (IANS) Al Qaeda militants Thursday have taken control of almost half of Iraq's Ramadi and Fallujah cities in Anbar province, security sources said.

"Half of Ramadi and Fallujah are now under control of Al Qaeda militants, while police forces-backed hundreds of Sunni tribesmen are fighting them in the streets," an interior ministry source told Xinhua.

A police source from Anbar province said that fierce battles in Ramadi, Anbar's provincial capital city, are still underway and some areas are controlled by Al Qaeda and others under the control of tribesmen.

The source said fierce clashes also erupted between Al Qaeda militants and tribesmen in the city of Fallujah, about 50 km west of Baghdad, while mortar rounds landed on the eastern side of the city.

Many were killed and wounded from both sides, but there are no reports about casualties yet, as the battles continue in the cities which are surrounded and blocked by the Iraqi army, the source said.

The state-run Iraqiya channel confirmed that "the tribesmen and the security forces retook control of police stations of al-Hurriyah, al-Ta'mim, al-Shabab, al-Mal'ab, al-Fursan, al-Aziz, al-Shahid Naser and al-Houz in Ramadi, about 110 km west of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, after the terrorists took control of them Wednesday".

The clashes erupted Wednesday in several cities in Anbar, including Ramadi and Fallujah, after Al Qaeda militants broke into the cities and attacked several police stations in the two cities, including the police headquarters in Fallujah just after the Iraqi army withdrew from the provincial cities, aiming at avoiding fighting the tribesmen.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said late Wednesday night, he changed his earlier decision to withdraw the army from riotous cities in Anbar province and would instead send reinforcements to the province where clashes continued.

"I will not withdraw troops and will send additional forces" to Anbar province in response to the requests from the residents and the government, the official Iraqiya television station quoted al-Maliki as saying.

The clashes in Anbar entered the fourth day after tensions flared in the province Monday when Iraqi police dismantled an anti-government protest site outside Ramadi.

Tension has been running high in the Sunni heartland of Anbar since the Iraqi security forces Saturday captured Sunni Arab tribal leader Ahmad al-Alwani and killed his brother. Al-Alwani is also a lawmaker in the Iraqi parliament.

The Sunnis have been carrying out a year-long protest, accusing the Shia-led government of marginalising them and its Shia-dominated security forces of indiscriminately arresting, torturing and killing their sons.

Alwani is one of the outspoken leading figures in the anti-government protests. Some opponent lawmakers have been demanding to lift his immunity, but their demand was rejected by the parliament.

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