Skip to main content

Iraqi tribesmen join in fight vs. al Qaeda in Anbar province

By Chelsea J. Carter and Mohammed Tawfeeq, CNN
updated 9:07 AM EST, Mon January 6, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: At least 80 people have been killed in fighting in Falluja, an official says
  • NEW: Fighting is under way in Ramadi, but the number of casualties is not known
  • NEW: Gunmen called on worshipers to join a Qaeda-backed group
  • NEW: U.S. "partnering with the Iraqi government very closely," State Dept. says

(CNN) -- Fighting is raging between al Qaeda-backed militants and Iraq's security forces for control of two key cities in the embattled Anbar province, even as a deal was in place with Sunni tribesmen to fight alongside Iraqi police against the terror group.

The renewed violence in the Sunni province has raised concern about the stability of the government amid dueling claims by the terror group and security forces over who was in control of Falluja and Ramadi.

At least 80 people were killed, roughly 60 of the casualties were members of al Qaeda, in clashes Friday across the province, a senior interior ministry official told CNN.

Some of the most significant fighting appeared to be in Falluja, where the U.S. military fought one of the bloodiest battles of the Iraq war, with militants planting al Qaeda flags on buildings.

Gunmen calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, formerly known as al Qaeda in Iraq, took to a stage before thousands of Sunnis following Friday prayers in Falluja.

"We call you to join us in our fight against the government of Nuri al-Maliki," one of the gunman said through a bullhorn.

More than two-thirds of the people in attendance left once the militant began to speak, according to a journalist working for CNN.

The gunmen ordered journalists not to cover their speech, threatening to kill anyone who attempted to film or record the event, according to the journalist, who is not being identified by CNN out of security concerns.

Fighting also was under way in Ramadi, police officials told CNN, but would not provide a specific number of casualties. In that area, tribal leaders have been calling on their fighters not to cover their faces so they can recognize their own people.

The violence -- pitting Sunni militants against Shiite-dominated forces -- recalls the bloody fighting at the height of the Iraq war that nearly tore the country apart.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf dismissed suggestions that the United States has abandoned Iraq following its withdrawal from the country in 2011.

"Let's be clear who's responsible for the violence. It's the terrorists who were behind it," she told reporters during a briefing in Washington. "That's why we are partnering with the Iraqi government very closely to fight this shared threat. At the end of the day, we can certainly help them fight it, but we also want to help them build their own capability to do so themselves."

The United States is sending weapons, including Hellfire rockets and drones, to aid them in their campaign against terrorism, officials have said.

Harf said a number of American officials on the ground in Iraq and in Washington "remain in touch with all of the different parties in Iraq. "

Meanwhile, after a deal brokered late Thursday, Sunni tribesman began fighting alongside Iraqi security forces in the province on Friday to try to tamp down the violence from Sunni militants.

The deal was comparable to a 2007 U.S. pact that saw Sunnis turn on al Qaeda, siding with American and Iraqi forces to bring about an end to the terrorism.

The latest round of violence erupted late last week following a raid by security forces on the home of prominent Sunni lawmaker Ahmed al-Alwani, one of the main organizers of the anti-government demonstrations in Anbar province.

Alwani's brother and five of his bodyguards were killed during the raid, which also left at least 16 people wounded, authorities said.

That was quickly followed by a move to close two protest camps that were established last year as part of ongoing demonstrations against the Shiite-led government, which protesters claim has marginalized the country's minority Sunni population.

A senior official with Iraq's interior ministry in Baghdad told CNN that al Qaeda has taken advantage of the security vacuum created by fighting between Iraqi forces and Sunnis.

But tensions between Sunnis and Shiites have been running high since last year when security forces raided a protest camp in Hawija. Dozens of people were killed in the raid, which was captured by local journalists.

CNN's Ashley Fantz and Salma Abdelaziz contributed to the report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:21 AM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
The first human trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine has produced promising results, U.S. scientists said.
updated 9:15 AM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot unarmed black teen in August abandoned home after address made public.
updated 5:36 PM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
HBO -- backing a documentary based on "Going Clear," a book about Scientology and Hollywood -- isn't taking any chances with legal side.
updated 2:35 PM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
Grandmaster Nguyen Van Chieu has devoted his adult life to spreading the word about Vietnames martial art, Vovinam.
updated 6:36 AM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
England cricketer Nick Compton shares insight into "drive and courage" it takes to face fears as top batsman.
updated 7:59 PM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson says he was just doing his "job right" when he shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown.
updated 8:18 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
The interior of the Formosa Boulevard Mass Rapid Transit Station in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.
Stunning stations where your first priority won't be finding the nearest exit.
updated 6:18 PM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says women's "nature is different," sparking fury.
updated 5:43 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
A 30-year-old woman has been charged with attempting to kill a baby police say spent five days down a drain before being discovered by cyclists.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
updated 7:51 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
Where do hip young things hang out in Taiwan?
updated 10:50 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
updated 4:06 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
updated 6:19 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
updated 2:45 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
updated 12:03 PM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT