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Iraq

Iraqi PM Urges Militants To Surrender, Avert Fallujah Assault

Masked Sunni gunmen chant slogans against Iraq's Shi'ite-led government during a protest in Fallujah on January 7.
Masked Sunni gunmen chant slogans against Iraq's Shi'ite-led government during a protest in Fallujah on January 7.
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Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has again urged Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the western province of Anbar to surrender.

In a televised address on January 8, Maliki suggested that militants who quit fighting the government and its allies might be considered for clemency.

Maliki repeated a pledge not to use force if Anbar's Sunni tribes took action on their own to oust the militants.

But he also vowed his government would smash the Iraqi Al-Qaeda branch, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, calling it corrupt and evil.

His comments came amid reports that Iraqi tanks and artillery remained deployed around Fallujah, poised to attack militants who seized parts of the Sunni-majority city last week.

"I call upon the people of Fallujah and the tribal leaders to unite and reject the presence of those evil people, because Fallujah has witnessed fighting and destruction many times before," Maliki said. "We do not want this city to suffer at all. We will not use force as long as the tribes are ready to fight Al-Qaeda and expel them."

Maliki also spoke by phone on January 8 with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden who expressed U.S. support for Baghdad's effort to regain control of the city of Fallujah.

"The Vice President also welcomed the Council of Ministers decision to extend state benefits to tribal forces killed or injured in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The Vice President underscored that America will support and assist Iraq in its fight against international terrorism," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported that schools and businesses appeared to be open in the Anbar capital, Ramadi, parts of which were also overrun by militants.

Reports said there were also some signs of normalcy in Fallujah on January 8, with traffic police returning to work and activity on the streets.

But the situation was described as remaining tense, with masked gunmen visible and the armed forces massed outside the city.

The number of killed and injured from fighting in Anbar since the fighting erupted there in late December remains unclear. But reports have spoken of scores of casualties.

The Iraqi Red Crescent said on January 8 that more than 13,000 families had fled Fallujah in the previous few days to escape the fighting.

A male Fallujah resident spoke of worsening fuel shortages.

"There's no gas available in Fallujah, government services aren't provided, there's no oil, no gas, no petrol," the resident said. "These terrible conditions are what is affecting the people of Fallujah."

In his address, Maliki also thanked the international community for its support of his government in the fight against Al-Qaeda and allied militants.

The United States this week pledged to speed deliveries of weapons, including missiles and drone aircraft, to aid Iraqi forces. But Washington has ruled out sending U.S. troops to the battle.

Analysts say a military campaign by Maliki’s Shi'ite-led government to oust the Anbar militants could risk enflaming the already high tensions between Iraq's Sunni Arab minority and the government.

The Sunni-Shi'ite split in Iraq intensified sharply after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in the 2003 U.S. invasion and the advent of a Shi'ite-led government.

The formerly dominant Sunni minority now accuses Shi'tes of seeking to marginalize their community.

The militant offensive marks the first time in years that Sunni insurgents have seized and held territory in major cities in Anbar, a vast western province that shares borders with Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

Both Ramadi and Fallujah become insurgent strongholds after the U.S. invasion.

Fallujah was the site of two U.S.-led assaults beginning in spring 2004. After several years of conflict, U.S. forces, supported by Sunni Arab tribesmen, were able to eventually to return the province to Iraqi government control.

The United States withdrew its combat forces from Iraq two years ago.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq

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