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US offers Iraq support - but no troops

US Secretary of State John Kerry has offered Iraq support, but said the country's battle with jihadists in the province of Anbar was "their fight." The Iraqi government has promised a major attack to regain control.

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Heavy fighting in Iraq

Speaking in Jerusalem on Sunday during his efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, US Secretary of State John Kerry was forced to address questions about the latest resurgence of al-Qaeda-linked groups in Iraq.

A jihadist group called the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) was reported on Saturday to have taken over the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in the Anbar province, but battles with government forces are still ongoing.

In the capital Baghdad on Sunday, three car bombs and a roadside bomb claimed at least 15 lives in total and wounded more than 25 people. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks.

'Major attack'

An Iraqi official has since promised a "major attack" on Fallujah to re-take the city. Special forces had already conducted operations in the city, and the army was deployed around it to allow residents to leave, the official told AFP news agency.

Then security forces would launch "the attack to crush the terrorists." An Iraqi general, Rasheed Fleih, who leads the Anbar Military Command earlier appeared on the country's TV network to say that Fallujah would be back in government hands within "two or three days."

Fleih added that pro-government Sunni tribes were leading the operations while the army was only offering aerial cover and logistics on the ground. "The quiet and safe life that is sought by the Anbaris will not be completely restored before few hours or two to three days, God willing," Fleih said.

Kerry told journalists that the US was "very, very concerned" by the fighting, calling ISIL one of "the most dangerous players in that region."

"We will stand with the government of Iraq and with others who will push back against their efforts to destabilize," Kerry said. "We are going to do everything that is possible. I will not go into the details."

"This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis," he added. "We are not contemplating returning."

Al Qaeda resurgent

Sectarian tensions have heightened in Iraq since the US withdrawal in December 2011, inflamed by the conflict in neighboring Syria, where mainly Sunni rebels are trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Shiite Iran.

The Iraqi army has joined forces with local tribesmen to fight ISIL, which is also one of the major jihadist groups in the Syrian rebellion across the border.

ISIL's resurgence in two major Iraqi cities harkens back to the darkest days of the insurgency that followed the 2003 US-led invasion.

The al Qaeda franchise in Iraq lost influence in the years after the invasion, suffering defeats by American forces, especially after Sunni tribesmen joined them from late 2006 in a process that became known as the "Awakening."

bk/msh (AP, Reuters)

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