Maliki leaves people of Fallujah on their own in fight against Qaeda
BAGHDAD - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Sunday ruled out a military assault on Fallujah, saying he wanted to spare the city more carnage and give Sunni Muslim tribesmen time to expel al Qaeda-linked fighters.
"We want to end the presence of those militants without any bloodshed because the people of Fallujah have suffered a lot," he said in an interview in Baghdad, referring to the devastating assaults by US forces to evict insurgents in 2004.
Fighters of the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and their tribal allies took over Fallujah and parts of the nearby city of Ramadi nearly two weeks ago at a time of Sunni anger with the Shiite-led government, stirred by a bloody raid to arrest a Sunni politician in Ramadi.
Maliki said he had reassured fearful residents of Fallujah that the army would not attack, but told them that they must take the city back from the militants who overran it on January 1.
"There is a good response from Fallujah’s sons and tribes," the Iraqi leader said. "We do not care how long this takes."
Iraqi security forces and tribesmen hostile to ISIL last week regained control of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, which borders Syria.
Maliki said the army would maintain its encirclement of Fallujah, 70 km (44 miles) west of Baghdad, to stop militants using it as a base for attacks.
"The important thing is not to attack the city and kill innocent people because of those criminals."
Two years after it pulled all troops from Iraq, the United States is working to speed up shipments of Hellfire missiles, surveillance aircraft and other gear requested by Maliki to help Iraqi forces rebuff ISIL's comeback in Anbar.
Maliki said Washington had also shared intelligence information and satellite imagery of ISIL camps near the border with Syria in the Sunni-dominated desert province.
Officials in Baghdad have blamed Iraq's slide back into violence on the conflict in Syria, which has inflamed sectarian tensions and fuelled instability across the region.
Nationwide violence killed 34 people on Sunday while civil servants west of Baghdad returned to work under tight security with Iraqi forces locked in a deadly two-week standoff with militants.
Gunmen and security forces clashed west and south of Baghdad, while bombings and shootings struck the capital and in northern Iraq, areas that have all borne the brunt of a months-long surge in bloodshed.
Armoured vehicles and tanks were meanwhile deployed at intersections in Ramadi.
The worst of Sunday's violence, however, hit the capital and surrounding areas.
Car bombs in the predominantly Shiite area of Kadhimiyah and the confessionally mixed Allawi killed 14 people in total, while a roadside bomb in west Baghdad left another person dead.
Two militants were killed by security forces just south of Baghdad, while in Abu Ghraib, west of the capital, militants attacked Iraqi soldiers, after which at least one helicopter opened fire.
The violence killed at least eight people and wounded 17, but accounts of the incident differed.
One security official said all of the dead and wounded were civilians killed by helicopter fire, while a second said the casualties may also include militants, and that the toll was for the entire engagement.
And a medical official said both soldiers and civilians were killed.
Violence in Mosul, Tikrit and Tuz Khurmatu, all restive areas north of Baghdad, left nine others dead and dozens wounded, including two journalists injured by a magnetic "sticky bomb" attached to their car.
In Anbar, meanwhile, provincial council member Raja Barakat al-Aifan said about 60 percent of government employees were back at work, after almost two weeks off due to the turmoil in the province.
Anbar governor Ahmed Khalaf al-Dulaimi had called for government employees to return to work on Sunday, the first day of the work week in much of the Arab world.