Qaeda-linked fighters control parts of two Iraq cities

Qaeda-linked fighters control parts of two Iraq cities
Protesters burn a police vehicle during fighting in Ramadi December 31, 2013. Fighting erupted when Iraqi police broke up a Sunni Muslim protest camp in the western Anbar province on Monday, leaving at least 13 people dead, police and medical sources said. The bodies of 10 other people killed in the clashes were brought into Ramadi's morgue, hospital and morgue sources said. In Falluja, gunmen attacked army patrols deployed along the main highway leading to Ramadi.

RAMADI, Iraq - Al-Qaeda-linked militants were on Thursday in control of more than half of the Iraqi city of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi, a security official and witnesses said.

Violence first erupted on Monday when gunmen clashed with security forces as they tore down the country's main Sunni Arab anti-government protest camp near Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

The clashes spread to Ramadi and then to Fallujah, where they continued for another two days.

Security forces have since withdrawn from some areas of the two cities in Anbar province, which were both once hubs of the insurgency that followed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, giving the jihadists free rein.

"Half of Fallujah is in the hands of ISIL (the Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) group, and the other half is in the control of" armed tribesmen, an interior ministry official told AFP.

A witness in the city west of Baghdad said that militants had set up checkpoints, each manned by six to seven people, in central and south Fallujah.

"In Ramadi, it is similar -- some areas are controlled by ISIL and other areas are controlled by" tribesmen, the interior ministry official said, referring to the provincial capital farther to the west.

An AFP journalist in Ramadi saw dozens of trucks carrying heavily-armed men driving in the city's east, playing songs praising ISIL.

Lyrics included "The Islamic State remains," and "Our State is victorious."

The militants also carried black flags of a type frequently flown by ISIL.

On Wednesday, militants in Ramadi sporadically clashed with security forces and torched four police stations, but the fighting had subsided by Thursday, the AFP journalist said.

The violence had also spread to Fallujah, where police abandoned most of their positions on Wednesday and militants burned some police stations, seized weapons and freed over 100 prisoners, officers said.

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