Iraqi forces recapture areas seized by Al Qaeda militants

Baghdad, Jan 17: The Iraqi security forces backed by tribesmen carried out offensive attacks Thursday against Al Qaeda-linked gunmen in the western province of Anbar, security sources said.

Iraqi army troops backed by tribesmen began a major offensive campaign early Thursday, targeting Al Qaeda-linked militants in the provincial capital city of Ramadi, some 110 km west of Baghdad, and the al-Jazira area outside the town of Khaldiyah, some 30 km east of Ramadi, Xinhua reported citing a source.

Around noon, the troops and the tribesmen managed to retake control of the districts of al-Mal’ab, Albu-Jabir and Street 60 in the eastern and southern parts of Ramadi, the source said, adding that sporadic clashes against pockets of remnants are still underway in the city.

Meanwhile, five Al Qaeda militants were killed in fierce clashes that erupted near the town of Khaldiyah between Iraqi security forces backed by paramilitary groups of Sunni tribes and Al Qaeda militants, the source said.

The clashes in Khaldiyah were part of another offensive targeting Al Qaeda militants. The Iraqi infantry troops teamed up with hundreds of Sunni tribesmen and started to sweep the edges of the town and the nearby open land area (called al-Jazira), including the areas of Albu-Bali, al-Girtan, Albu-Hazil and Albu- Obeid, the source added.

The army helicopters burned 13 vehicles used by the militants and the troops managed to seize Albu-Bali area near Khaldiyah, the source said, adding that the tribesmen and the troops immediately left the area to hunt down more Al Qaeda gunmen.

Elsewhere in Anbar province, the security forces and the tribesmen cleared the town of Saqlawiyah near the city of Fallujah, after they fought gunmen in the town and retook control of the local government compound and the town’s police station which were occupied by the militants, the defence ministry said in a statement.

In a separate statement, the ministry said the security forces killed three Al Qaeda militants and captured six others after clashes erupted near a village bordering Syria.

In Fallujah, several mortar rounds landed on the city, killing two civilians and wounding five others, including two children, police said.

Anbar province has been the scene of fierce clashes that flared up after Iraqi police dispersed an anti-government protest site outside Ramadi in late December last year.

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 members of their community.

Iraq is witnessing its worst violence in recent years. According to the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, at least 8,868 Iraqis, including 7,818 civilians and civilian police personnel, were killed in 2013, which is the highest annual death toll in years.

IANS