As clashes continue between Islamic State (IS) militants and Iraqi security forces in Baghdadi in Iraq's western Anbar Province, reports emerged on February 17 that gunmen had burned 45 people alive in the township.
The source of the report, which has not been independently confirmed, was a senior local police official, Brigadier General Qasim al-Obeidi, who was quoted extensively in both Western and local news outlets. Obeidi said that it had not been possible to identify those killed, but that he believed some were members of the security forces. An RFE/RL correspondent in Iraq quoted the Anbar Command as saying that 26 members of the Iraqi security forces in Baghdadi were killed, but did not report that the victims were burned.
Militants overran Baghdadi, one of the last remaining towns in Anbar Province that had been under Iraqi control, on February 13. The town is about 8 kilometers from the Ayn al-Asad air base where U.S. Marines are training Iraqi troops.
With fighting ongoing in Baghdadi, reports out of the town give an unclear picture of events, reflecting the rapidly shifting situation on the ground. USA Today reported on February 17 that the militants had managed to seize a police station in Baghdadi. In a dispatch on the evening of February 17, RFE/RL's correspondent said that Iraqi security forces had succeeded in taking control of large parts of the town, though gunmen had blown up a number of government buildings, including the police station. RFE/RL's correspondent also reported that the gunmen have also mined and booby-trapped public roads and residences in the town, a familiar urban-warfare tactic of the IS group.
Reports earlier this week indicated a severe humanitarian crisis in Baghdadi, with local residents becoming internally displaced as they sought to flee the besieged town.
Iraqi news website AlSumaria.tv on February 18 quoted Naim al-Kaoud, a leader of the Albu Nimr tribe, as saying that the Iraqi central government had managed to send aid to displaced civilians in and around Baghdadi.
Kaoud told AlSumaria.tv that he wanted to thank Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi for sending military and food support to families besieged by the IS group and for approving the transfer of displaced families from the area to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk