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News ID: 3180
Publish Date: 12:50 - 11 January 2014
Gunmen held crucial territory on Baghdad's doorstep Saturday despite tribesmen and police retaking militant-held areas west of the capital, as the UN Security Council backed Iraq's efforts against Al-Qaeda-linked extremists.
Battles in Anbar provincial capital Ramadi saw Al-Qaeda-linked fighters cede control of two neighbourhoods, but the former insurgent bastion of Fallujah, where US forces fought some of their bloodiest battles since the Vietnam War, remained in militant hands.
 
The United Nations and NGOs have said civilians lack access to essential supplies such as food and fuel because of the crisis, while Washington has piled pressure on Baghdad to focus on political reconciliation, in addition to ongoing military operations.
 
Gunmen seized all of Fallujah, just 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Baghdad, and parts of Ramadi last week, the first time militants have exercised such open control in major cities since the insurgency that followed the 2003 US-led invasion.
 
Both cities lie in Anbar province, a sprawling desert region in west Iraq bordering Syria where US and Iraqi officials have warned for months that jihadists have been able to establish training camps and rear bases.
 
On Friday, tribesmen and local police retook the Malaab and Fursan areas of Ramadi from Al-Qaeda-linked militants, tribal military commander Mohammed Khamis Abu Risha told AFP.
 
"We fought ISIL alongside our sons from the local police forces and returned them to their stations," Abu Risha said, referring to the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group.
 
"They only control 10 percent of Ramadi territory," he said of ISIL.
 
ISIL has been active in the Anbar fighting, but so have anti-government tribes.
 
At the same time, security forces have recruited their own tribal allies in the fighting that has raged in Anbar for more than 10 days.
 
An AFP journalist in Ramadi also saw tribesmen and police apparently in control of the two areas.
 
Two civilians were killed and four others were wounded in violence in the city, according to a doctor, while eight militants also suffered injuries.
  
Warning for government
======================
  
In Fallujah, which remained in the control of gunmen, a prayer leader called for provincial sheikhs to intervene to resolve the crisis in the city, but warned the government "should not use the army for internal fighting in the cities".
 
Sheikh Abdulhamid Jadua also urged people during Friday prayers not to "make Fallujah a place that attracts killing and blood".
 
The UN Security Council, meanwhile, gave strong backing to an Iraqi government campaign to retake the two cities, amid mounting concern over the battle for Anbar.
 
The recent crisis, along with a months-long surge in bloodshed nationwide, come just months ahead of national elections and are among the biggest ever challenges to face Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki during his eight years in office.
 
The council condemned attacks by ISIL militants and praised the "great courage" of the Iraqi security forces in Anbar.
 
"The Security Council expresses its strong support for the continued efforts of the Iraqi government to help meet the security needs of the entire population of Iraq," said the statement.
 
The council urged "Iraqi tribes, local leaders, and Iraqi security forces in Anbar province, to continue, expand and strengthen their cooperation against violence and terror and it stresses the critical importance of continued national dialogue and unity."
 
The Iraqi Red Crescent said it had provided humanitarian assistance to more than 8,000 families across Anbar but that upwards of 13,000 had fled, while the UN special envoy has warned of a dire humanitarian situation.
 
A senior US official has said the crisis could take weeks to resolve.
 
Fighting erupted in the Ramadi area on December 30, when security forces cleared a year-old Sunni Arab protest camp.
 
The violence spread to Fallujah, and militants moved in and seized the city and parts of Ramadi after security forces withdrew.

AFP

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