Iraq violence: PM urges Fallujah to oust militants

Footage has emerged purporting to show militants in Falluja and Ramadi

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has urged residents of the embattled city of Fallujah to force out insurgents linked to al-Qaeda who have taken control there.

Mr Maliki said that if the people expelled "terrorists", they would be spared military action.

Iraqi forces are preparing to recapture the city, which has been out of government control for days.

The US is speeding up the delivery of military equipment to the government.

"We're accelerating our foreign military sales deliveries and are looking to provide an additional shipment of Hellfire missiles as early as this spring," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Analysis

Mr Maliki did not say how he expected the people of Fallujah to drive out the Islamist militants - a task which cost the American forces many lives in several major battles from 2004 on.

He also appealed to the powerful Sunni tribes in the area to help. However, tribal fighters are reported to have taken to the streets - not to drive out ISIS fighters, but to prevent the Iraqi army from coming back in.

As happened during the insurgency, the Islamist militants have been able to benefit from deep-seated grievances among the Sunnis against Mr Maliki and his Shia-dominated government. His drive to restore control is being seen by them as an attempt at domination and oppression, and it is taking Iraq back to the brink of a sectarian civil war and fragmentation.

But his military commanders insist a big offensive is on the way, and they say it will only take a few days to root out what they call "the terrorists".

He said Washington would also provide more surveillance drones - 10 in the next few weeks and another 48 later in the year.

Mr Carney said it was up to the Iraqis to "take the lead" but the US was "working closely with the Iraqis to develop a holistic strategy to isolate the al-Qaeda-affiliated groups".

Danger

With hundreds of residents already fleeing shelling and air strikes by government forces, Mr Maliki called on "the people of Fallujah and its tribes to expel the terrorists".

This would ensure "their areas are not subjected to the danger of armed clashes", state television quoted him as saying.

Much of the city is reported to be controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIS.

An adviser to the prime minister, Saad al-Mutalabi, has told the BBC that insurgents smuggled weapons into the city from the war in neighbouring Syria.

"Because of what is happening in Syria and the new ammunition and missiles they received from Saudi Arabia into Syria, they managed to smuggle quite a vast quantity of equipment to fight the Iraqi people."

Fighting is also continuing in Ramadi, also in Anbar province, parts of which are in the hands of militants.

Map

A commander of an anti-government armed group in Iraq, calling itself the Fallujah Military Council, has vowed to punish tribesmen who support the Iraqi government forces in the battle for the control of Anbar province.

"The revolutionaries of Fallujah tribes have resolved to punish those, the covetous, who are linked to the sectarian government. They decided to be part of the military council, vowing to thwart this filthy project in the whole Arab region," the militant said.

Emblematic

Fallujah is a highly symbolic city for many Iraqis, particularly Sunni Arabs, say correspondents.

It is remembered for the battles fought there between insurgents and US-backed forces in 2004.

The latest upsurge in violence in Anbar began after troops broke up a protest camp by Sunni Arabs in Ramadi last month.

Many Sunni Arabs in Iraq are angered by what they say is their marginalisation by the Shia-led government.

For many Fallujah residents, the Iraqi army is serving the "sectarian" agenda of Prime Minister Maliki's Shia-led government, says BBC Arabic correspondent Ahmed Maher.

But among other Iraqis, Fallujah is also known as the "city of terrorism" as it served as the nucleus of al-Qaeda in their country.

After the US-led invasion in 2003, al-Qaeda based itself in Fallujah where several beheadings and killings of foreigners took place.

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