Al Qaida asks Iraqis in embattled city for support
This image provided by the International Committee of the Red
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Members of al-Qaida's local franchise handed out pamphlets urging residents in the western city of Fallujah to take up arms and back the militants in their weeks-long fight against Iraqi troops as clashes raged on around the city, residents said Thursday.
Since late last month, Iraqi security forces and allied Sunni tribesmen have been fighting to recapture key territories overran by al-Qaida-linked militants in the country's Sunni-dominated Anbar province, including Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi.
Speaking to The Associated Press over the telephone, Fallujah residents said militants were distributing pamphlets with the emblem of the group -- the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- at main city intersections Thursday and the day before.
The pamphlets call on the people of Fallujah to join the fight -- the holy war, or jihad -- alongside the al-Qaida fighters, give money or open their homes as shelter for the mujahedeen, the residents said. They spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their own safety.
Another pamphlet announced that al-Qaida would form a Commission for Promotion of Vitrue and Prevention of Vice that would look into the disputes among Fallujah residents, they said.
Meanwhile, clashes between Iraqi security forces and al-Qaida militants raged in two Fallujah neighborhoods from late last night to Thursday morning, the residents also said.
A medical official said the city hospital received the bodies of seven men killed in the fighting and that 13 were wounded. He was unable to provide a breakdown of how many of the dead were militants and how many might have been civilians caught up in the clashes.
Iraqi state TV said security forces and allied tribal fighters clashed inside and around the city of Ramadi on Thursday, retaking several areas captured earlier by al-Qaida fighters. No more details were given.
The unrest in Anbar started after the Dec. 28 arrest of a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges and the dismantling of an anti-government Sunni protest camp in Ramadi. To alleviate the tension, the government pulled the army back from the cities, but that only exacerbated the situation as the militants managed to take over parts of Ramadi and the center of nearby Fallujah.
In the capital, Baghdad, a bomb exploded in an outdoor market in its eastern suburb of Nahrawan on Thursday, killing three civilians and wounding six others, a police officer said. Another bomb went off in a commercial area in Baghdad's western Ghazaliyah neighborhood, killing two civilians and wounding nine, he said.
Two medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials who gave the figures spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Violence has escalated in Iraq over the past year. Iraq saw the highest annual death toll in 2013 since the worst of the country's sectarian bloodletting began to subside in 2007, according to United Nations figures. The U.N. said violence killed 8,868 last year.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report from Baghdad.
Follow Sinan Salaheddin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sinansm