Al-Qaeda militants advanced today into new areas of one major Iraqi cities of Ramadi and Fallujah and held part of another in Anbar province, after days of violence sparked by the removal of an anti-government protest camp.
Fighting began in the Ramadi area Monday, when security forces removed the main anti-government protest camp set up after demonstrations broke out in late 2012 .
Fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which operates in both Iraq and neighbouring Syria, advanced amid early morning clashes into areas of central Ramadi and deployed snipers on one street, a police captain said.
Iraqiya state television later reported that Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service "killed two snipers and burned four vehicles carrying terrorists" in the city.
A police colonel said the army had re-entered areas of Fallujah, between Ramadi and Baghdad, but that around a quarter of it remained under ISIL control.
At least 14 people were killed on Monday and Tuesday in and near Ramadi, but casualties from the later clashes there and in Fallujah were not immediately clear.
Clashes erupted in the Ramadi area on Monday as security forces tore down the sprawling anti-government protest camp on a nearby highway. The violence then spread to Fallujah, and a subsequent withdrawal of security forces from areas of both cities cleared the way for ISIL to move in.
Police and tribal fighters battled ISIL in east Ramadi on Thursday, but the fighting eased after several hours with militants still controlling some areas.
Iraqi special forces also clashed with militants in Fallujah on Thursday, their commander said.
Prime Minister "Nuri al-Maliki" had long sought the closure of the protest camp near Ramadi, dubbing it a "headquarters for the leadership of al-Qaeda".
But the removal of the camp has come at the cost of a sharp decline in the security situation in Anbar. And while the camp's closure has removed a physical sign of Sunni Arab grievances, the perceived injustices that underpinned the demonstration have not been addressed.