Iraqi troops gear up for Fallujah assault, killing 57 militants
BAGHDAD — Iraqi troops and allied tribesmen killed 57 Islamist militants in Anbar province on Monday, the Defense Ministry said, in advance of a possible assault on the Sunni Muslim rebel-held city of Fallujah.
There was no independent verification of the toll among the militants, said to be members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a jihadi group fighting in the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Sunni groups angered by the Shiite Muslim-led Baghdad government overran Fallujah and parts of the nearby city of Ramadi in the western province of Anbar on Jan. 1.
The Defense Ministry statement said most of the 57 militants had been killed in the outskirts of Ramadi, but gave few details.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has held back from an all-out assault on Fallujah to allow time for a negotiated way out of the standoff, but mediation efforts appear to have failed.
Troops intensified shelling of Fallujah late Sunday, and security officials said a ground assault would follow soon.
“The assault has to take place on Fallujah, sooner or later,” said a top security official directly involved in dealing with the stand-off. “The time for talking ran out.”
The official said the army was tightening its siege of the city and would continue shelling it for at least three days to weaken militant positions and drive remaining residents out.
“We will not enter as long as there are civilians inside,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “We want them to leave, and they will leave under the pressure of daily bombardment.”
A resident of Fallujah said many families had moved to the city's western districts because other areas were being shelled, and the army was fighting militants in the north.