BAGHDAD - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called on residents of Fallujah Monday to expel "terrorists" holding the city to spare it an assault by the army, state television reported.
Maliki called on "the people of Fallujah and its tribes to expel the terrorists" so "their areas are not subjected to the danger of armed clashes."
Maliki also said he had ordered security forces "not to strike residential areas," the television added.
Fallujah, west of Baghdad, where US troops repeatedly battled insurgents, is outside government control.
Militants have also held parts of Anbar provincial capital Ramadi for days.
It is the first time militants have exercised such open control in major cities since the height of the bloody insurgency that followed the US-led invasion of 2003.
Continuous fighting took place north, northeast and south Ramadi from early on Monday morning a police major said, while a captain reported clashes east of Fallujah.
A senior Iraqi official told AFP on Sunday that "Iraqi forces are preparing for a major attack in Fallujah."
And ground forces commander Staff General Ali Ghaidan Majeed said the city should "wait for what is coming" - a reference to the impending assault.
Fighting in Anbar has reportedly killed more than 200 people in just three days, making it the deadliest violence to hit the province in years.