Iraqi PM: Time to End Al Qaeda Presence in Fallujah
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said it was time to clear al-Qaeda-linked militants out of the city of Fallujah, but set no deadline for any military assault.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda offshoot also on the frontlines of Syria's civil war, overran Fallujah with help from other groups on January 1.
Iraqi troops and security forces have set up a loose cordon around the city, 50 km (31 miles) west of Baghdad, and have clashed sporadically with insurgents inside, but Maliki has said community leaders and tribesmen should force ISIL to withdraw, in order to spare Fallujah more bloodshed and destruction.
"The time has come to settle this issue and end the presence of this gang in this city and save its people from their evil," Maliki said in his weekly televised address to the nation, Al Jazeera reported.
Three hours later, helicopter gunships bombarded eastern and northern districts of Fallujah, residents said. It was not clear if that was the prelude to wider military action. Helicopters have been in action before on the outskirts of the city.
On Tuesday, Iraqi air force strikes killed more than 50 militants of various Arab nationalities and destroyed large amounts of ammunition in the western province of Anbar, a Defense Ministry statement said. It did not say exactly where the raids on "gatherings of terrorist groups" took place.
Maliki again urged the people of Fallujah to "to take crucial positions on the presence of those dirty people without losses and without sacrifices," but set no precise time limit.
"Those criminals are seeking to ignite sectarian strife and to end up with the division of Iraq," Maliki said.