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Iraq PM Vows To Defeat 'Terrorist' Groups As Fighting Continues


Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (file photo)
RAMADI, Iraq -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has pledged to defeat "all terrorist groups" in the restive Anbar Province as Iraqi security forces and Sunni tribesmen continued to battle Al-Qaeda militants in the central cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.

In a speech broadcast on state television, Maliki also urged political and tribal leaders who supported terrorists to reconsider their actions.

"I am calling on those who are deluding themselves to reconsider," Maliki said. "They have been involved, without knowing it, in supporting Al-Qaeda projects and protecting [the terrorist network] in several ways, including by providing media and political support. Now they are responsible for the consequences that our forces face as they fight criminals and killers."

EXPLAINER: What's Behind The Fighting In Iraq?

RFE/RL Radio Free Iraq (RFI) correspondent Abdulkhaliq Muhammad, who was in Ramadi, said on January 4 that about 60 percent of the nearby city of Fallujah was under the control of Al-Qaeda and antigovernment insurgents.

He said security forces and tribesmen were cooperating to regain control over those parts of the city, adding that militants had reportedly seized the headquarters of the Iraqi Army's 1st division and also the Baghdad-Ramadi motorway.

The Iraqi Army shelled the city with mortars in an effort to root out the militants, leaving eight people dead and 30 wounded.

In Ramadi, fighting left scores dead on January 3 as police and Sunni tribesmen solidified control over the city.

Muhammad said Ramadi was "generally secured" and returning to normal, with local and traffic police back in residential areas and many shops reopened.

Maliki adviser Ali al-Musawi said on January 5 that it would take a couple of days before security forces regain control of Fallujah.

"There is increased coordination between the [Iraqi] army and [Sunni] tribesmen," Musawi told Reuters. "The army provides the tribes with weapons and everything they need in this battle against the terrorists. I think this issue will be resolved within one or two days days given our effort to expel the armed groups."

Meanwhile, the United States has condemned "in the absolute strongest terms" the violence in Ramadi and Fallujah, the main cities of the western Anbar Province, placing the blame squarely on "terrorists."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters in Washington that the United States was "partnering" with the Iraqi government to fight "this shared threat."

The Shi'ite-led government ordered the army to pull out of Ramadi and Fallujah last week, after Sunni tribesmen said they were ready to join police in the battle against Al-Qaeda militants.

Fighting between Iraqi security forces and the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and Levant broke out on December 30 when a Sunni protest camp in Ramadi was dismantled by government forces.

Maliki had vowed to shut down the camp, which had been set up more than one year ago. He said it had gone from a place of peaceful protest to a headquarters for Al-Qaeda forces.

Iraqi authorities meanwhile said bombings in Baghdad killed at least 19 people and wounded dozens more on January 5.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The deadliest attack took place in the Shaab neighborhood, when two parked car bombs exploded simultaneously near a restaurant and a teahouse. Officials say that blast killed 10 people and wounded 26.

Authorities say another bombing killed three civilians and wounded six in a commercial area in central Baghdad's Bab al-Muadham neighborhood. Two other bombings killed two civilians and wounded 13.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP