Dozens of people are reported to have been killed in fighting between government forces and Islamist insurgents in western Iraq. This came after the militants had seized control over parts of two cities.
Iraqi media reported on Friday that Iraqi forces and local tribesmen were locked in a battle against fighters said to be from the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant , an al Qaeda-linked group, for control of the city of Ramadi in the country's western Anbar province.
The Reuters news agency cited medical and tribal sources who said that at least 40 of the militants had been killed in the fighting. There was no word on casualties among the government forces and their tribal allies. The AFP news agency cited sources who put the total number of people killed on Friday at more than 100, not counting Iraqi forces or tribal fighters. These figures could not be independently verified.
Reuters reported that local tribesmen had agreed in a deal reached late on Thursday to fight alongside the security forces against the militants, despite Sunni grievances against the mainly Shiite government.
"There is no way to let al Qaeda keep any foothold in Anbar," an unnamed tribal leader told Reuters. "The battle is fierce and not easy because they are hiding inside residential areas."
In Fallujah, meanwhile, police said they had regained control of police stations that had been seized by the Islamists earlier in the week.
Escalation in tensions
Already existing tensions in Anbar province escalated last weekend following the arrest of a Sunni parliamentarian, Ahmed al-Awani, on terrorism charges. More than 40 other mainly Sunni lawmakers responded by tendering their resignations.
Clashes broke out after security forces moved in to dismantle an anti-government protest camp that had been set up along a highway near Ramadi. The fighting then spread to Fallujah.
The overall security situation had already deteriorated last April after the government launched a deadly crackdown on another Sunni protest camp.
More than 8,800 people were killed in Iraq in 2013, according to United Nations estimates, making it the deadliest 12 months the country has experienced in five years.
pfd/se (dpa, AFP, AP)