Middle East

Iraq violence: Air strike 'kills 25 militants'

Iraqis inspect the burnt out remains of an Iraqi army APC on the highway leading to Ramadi
Image caption Burnt out tanks could be seen one of the roads to Ramadi on Tuesday

Iraqi troops have killed 25 al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Ramadi in an air strike, the government says as it battles militants in Anbar province.

Residents told the BBC Iraqi special forces were also working with Sunni tribesmen to dislodge the militants.

Ramadi and the city of Fallujah have been infiltrated by an al-Qaeda-affiliated group known as ISIS.

But an assault on Fallujah has been delayed because of fears of civilian casualties.

The government lost control of Fallujah to ISIS - the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - and allied Sunni Arab tribesmen at the weekend.

Hundreds of residents have been fleeing shelling and air strikes by government forces.

At the same time, the militants have called on Sunni tribes in the area to support them and have urged families who have fled the city to return to their homes.

Fighting in Anbar province in recent days has led to some of the heaviest clashes in Iraq for years.

Ramadi, the provincial capital, is reported to be under the control of powerful Sunni tribes working with local police to counter ISIS.

Despite long-standing grievances against the central Shia-led government, the Ramadi tribes have renewed a pact with senior Iraqi army leaders to dislodge any ISIS presence.

One resident told the BBC Iraqi special forces were conducting hit-and-run operations in areas where the militants have taken refuge.

Giving details of the air strike in Ramadi, Mohammad al-Askari, spokesman for the Iraqi defence ministry said the air force had targeted vehicles carrying heavy weapons, killing 25 "armed men".

Sunni anger

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

Many Sunnis in Iraq claim they are being marginalised by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Shia-led government.

BBC Middle East correspondent Jim Muir says Islamist militants have been able to benefit from those deep-seated grievances.

Mr Maliki's drive to restore control is being seen by many Sunnis as an attempt at domination and oppression, and it is taking Iraq back to the brink of a sectarian civil war, he adds.

Image caption Many from Fallujah have fled to other parts of Iraq

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

The US is accelerating the delivery of military equipment to Iraq to help the government fight ISIS and other militant groups.

Additional surveillance drones will arrive within weeks and more Hellfire missiles in the next few months.

Correspondents say that despite withdrawing from Iraq at the end of 2011, the US remains a key security partner, providing more than $14bn (£8bn) worth of weapons to Baghdad since 2005.

In other violence in Iraq, a suicide bomber in a lorry killed at least two people and injured many more at a police station in the northern city of Kirkuk.