FALLUJAH: Iraq has lost Fallujah to Al-Qaeda-linked fighters, a senior security official said Saturday, putting militants back in control of the city in Anbar province where American forces repeatedly battled insurgents.
And fighting in Anbar killed 65 people on Saturday — eight soldiers, two government-allied tribesmen and 55 militants from Al-Qaeda-linked group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), security officials said.
Parts of Fallujah and Ramadi, west of Baghdad, had already been held by militants for days, harkening back to the years after the 2003 US-led invasion when both cities were insurgent strongholds.
Fighting erupted in the Ramadi area Monday, when security forces broke up an anti-government protest camp set up after demonstrations erupted in late 2012 against what Sunni Arabs say is the marginalisation and targeting of their community.
The violence then spread to Fallujah, and a subsequent withdrawal of security forces from areas of both cities cleared the way for militants to move in.
“Fallujah is under the control of ISIL,” a senior security official in Anbar told AFP, while the city’s outskirts were in the hands of local police.
An AFP journalist inside Fallujah also said ISIL seemed to be in control, with no security forces or Sahwa anti-Al-Qaeda militiamen visible on the streets.
Meanwhile, Iraqi ground forces commander Staff General Ali Ghaidan Majeed said security forces killed 25 ISIL fighters in Albufaraj, near Ramadi, and 30 in Garma, close to Fallujah.