Baghdad, Jan 5: At least 55 Al Qaeda-linked militants were killed Saturday in clashes with security forces and local Sunni tribesmen in western Iraq, media reports said.
Iraqi security forces backed by tribesmen killed 25 militants of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, commonly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, in the area of Alibovraj, north of Ramadi, Anbar’s provincial capital city, state-run al-Iraqiya television reported, according to Xinhua.
About 30 other Al Qaeda militants were killed in an attack carried out by the Iraqi Air Force on the outskirts of the city of Fallujah in Anbar province, some 50 km west of Baghdad, it added.
Security sources and a witness said earlier that the Iraqi security forces Saturday lost control of Fallujah to some tribesmen and Al Qaeda fighters after days of fierce clashes which broke out when Iraqi police dismantled an anti-government protest site in Anbar.
“Fallujah is under control of armed tribesmen and fighters from Al Qaeda organisation, and there is no presence for the government security forces,” a police source told Xinhua.
Hundreds of Sunni tribesmen armed with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades were roaming around the streets of Fallujah, the source said.
However, Ahmed Abu Risha, former leader of the government-backed Sahwa paramilitary group said that many others of Fallujah’s tribesmen backed by police were still fighting Al Qaeda on the outskirts of the city.
An eyewitness said that fierce clashes erupted since Friday night when dozens of gunmen attacked an army base outside Fallujah and took control of part of it.
Residents of the city said that many artillery shells and mortar rounds had been fired from the army base in their city during the past two days, killing and wounding some civilians.
Clashes erupted Wednesday in several cities of Anbar, including Ramadi and Fallujah, after Al Qaeda militants broke into the cities and attacked several police stations there, including the police headquarters in Fallujah just after the Iraqi army withdrew.
Tension was running high in the Sunni heartland of Anbar after the Iraqi security forces recently captured the 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 Shiite-led government of marginalising them and its Shiite-dominated security forces of indiscriminately arresting, torturing and killing their sons.
Alwani is one of the outspoken leading figures in the anti-government protests.