34 die in Iraq military airstrikes
Published 05/01/2014 | 13:22
The Iraqi military tried to dislodge al-Qaida militants in Sunni-dominated Anbar province on Sunday, unleashing airstrikes and besieging the regional capital in fighting that killed at least 34 people, officials said.
A series of bombs in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad also killed at least 20 people.
The recent gains by the insurgents have been a blow to the Shiite-led government - as sectarian violence has escalated since the US withdrawal.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was "very, very concerned" by the fighting but would not send in American troops.
Video of the airstrikes in Anbar - apparently taken by aircraft at night - was released by Iraq's Defence Ministry showing al-Qaida hideouts being bombarded. It showed men gathered around a vehicle, then running away as the site was struck.
A ministry statement said the air force struck a militants' hideout overnight, identifying them as belonging to the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which the government refers to as "terrorists".
The army and allied tribesmen also fought al-Qaida militants around the provincial capital of Ramadi on Sunday, two Anbar government officials told The Associated Press by telephone.
They said 22 soldiers and 12 civilians were killed, along with an unknown number of militants, and 58 people were wounded.
Clans inside the city of Fallujah have started to form brigades, they said, and some of the factions who fought the Americans following the US-led invasion a decade ago say they do not want the Iraqi army to enter the city. There was no fighting inside the city on Sunday.
Government troops, backed by Sunni tribesmen who oppose al-Qaida, have encircled Fallujah for several days and have entered parts of Ramadi.
On Friday, troops bombarded militant positions outside Fallujah with artillery, a military official said.
The deadliest attack on Sunday in Baghdad took place in the northern Shiite Shaab neighborhood, where two car bombs exploded simultaneously near a restaurant and a tea house. Officials say those blasts killed 10 people and wounded 26.
Authorities said a car bomb ripped through the capital's eastern Shiite district of Sadr City, killing five and wounding 10.
Another bombing killed three civilians and wounded six in a commercial area in the central Bab al-Muadham neighborhood, officials said. Two other bombings killed two civilians and wounded 13, police said.
Clashes have been taking place since Monday in Ramadi and nearby Fallujah and the Baghdad bombings could be seen as an attempt by militants to distract security forces.
Earlier on Sunday, a senior Iraqi military commander said that it will take a few days to fully dislodge al-Qaida-linked fighters in the two cities.
Lt Gen Rasheed Fleih, who leads the Anbar Military Command, told state TV that "two to three days" are needed to push the militants out of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi.
Ramadi was a stronghold of Sunni insurgents during the US war. Al-Qaida militants largely took both cities over last week and have been fending off incursions by government forces there since.