As clashes continue between Islamic State (IS) gunmen and Iraqi security forces in Iraq's beleaguered Anbar province, the chairman of Anbar's provincial council Sabah Karhout has called on the United States and its allies to carry out fresh air strikes against the militant group.
Karhout said on December 19 that there had been no U.S.-led air strikes in Anbar for four days.
The Anbar provincial council leader urged the United States and its allies to intensify their sorties over the province and to increase the number of targets. The last air strike had been carried out on December 15, he said.
Islamic State militants have deployed around the township of Baghdadi between Hit and Haditha in western Anbar, security sources said, according to Alsumaria news.
Baghdadi is completely blockaded by Islamic State gunmen. Three small children have died because there is no more baby milk available in the town, an RFE/RL correspondent in Iraq reported on December 18.
The correspondent also reported that U.S. military officers and consultants are advising local security forces from the Ayn al-Asad base in Baghdadi.
A BBC journalist who reported from Ayn al-Asad on December 19 noted that the base is completely surrounded by Islamic State militants and that as many as 15 villages surrounding the base have recently been overrun by the gunmen.
A soldier from the Iraqi 7th Division blamed the lack of aerial cover from the U.S.-led coalition for the losses.
"What we need are helicopters and combat aircraft. I don't know why the planes didn't come. They're saying the conditions are wrong, but the weather is fine now. In two days, there wasn't a single air strike," the soldier, named as Pt. Karar Hadi, told the BBC.
Islamic State militants took control of the Al-Dolab district 10 kilometers west of Hit on December 11 after Iraqi security forces made a failed attempt to storm and recapture Hit.
Trapped By IS gunmen
Earlier this week, Anbar provincial council leader Karhout said that Islamic State militants had prevented hundreds of Anbar families from leaving areas under their control. Karhout accused Islamic State of showing "its absolute barbarity and terrorism" by "detaining families in towns and then practicing hegemony and repression against them while there are no medical or humanitarian services."
Sheikh Naim al-Goud, a leader of the Sunni Albu Nimr tribe that is fighting IS militants in Anbar, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq by telephone on December 16 that over 5,000 members of the tribe are now surrounded by IS militants in villages west of Ramadi. IS gunmen are preventing the tribesmen from leaving the villages in an area that stretches all the way to Hit, Goud said.
Islamic State militants are still pushing to take Anbar's provincial capital of Ramadi, with RFE/RL's correspondent reporting on December 18 that the gunmen had seized parts of the city's northeastern area and laid mines along access routes into it. The mines were later cleared by Iraqi security forces, but explosives had also been planted in several mosques, the correspondent said.
Since November, Islamic State has made successive attempts to overrun Ramadi. The militants now control three major towns west of the provincial capital, including Hit and Kubaisa.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk