Iraqi police and tribal fighters yesterday claimed to have retaken the western city of Fallujah from al-Qaeda affiliates after heavy clashes that left scores of dead there and in the neighbouring city of Ramadi in recent days.
Amid reports of civilians fleeing fighting elsewhere in Anbar and Ninevah provinces, social media described continuing serious violence in western Iraq between Sunni Islamist militants and forces of the country's Shia-dominated Government.
According to a local journalist working for CNN in Fallujah, tribal forces and police were again in control of a city where US forces and militants fought one of the bloodiest battles of the Iraq War. Other reports suggested the al-Qaeda-linked ISIS fighters still controlled parts of Fallujah.
Hadi Razeij, head of the Anbar province police force, said police had left the city centre and positioned themselves on the edge of town.
"The walls of the city are in the hands of the police force, but the people of Fallujah are the prisoners of ISIS," he said, speaking on Arabic language satellite broadcaster al-Arabiya.
The claims, none of which could immediately be confirmed, follow a night that saw government forces mortar al-Qaeda positions in the north and east of the town.
Fallujah became notorious among Americans in 2004 when insurgents killed four American security contractors and hung their burned bodies from a bridge.
The escalating tension shows the civil war in Syria, where mostly Sunni rebels are battling President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Shia power Iran, is spilling over to other countries like Iraq, threatening its delicate sectarian balance.
Officials and witnesses in Fallujah said the northern and eastern parts of the city were under the control of tribesmen and militants after residents fled army shelling.
The fighting in Fallujah came as al-Qaeda affiliates across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon appeared to suffer a day of reverses amid escalating conflicts between al-Qaeda-backed groups and Sunni fighters.
- Observer, AP