More than 100 people were killed Friday as Iraqi police and tribesmen battled Al-Qaeda-linked militants who took over parts of two Anbar provincial cities, declaring one an Islamic state.
Parts of Ramadi and Fallujah, west of Baghdad, have been held by militants for days, harkening back to the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion when both cities were insurgent strongholds.
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 against what Arabs say is the marginalization and targeting of their community.
Police and tribesmen fought in Ramadi and Fallujah Friday against militants from Al-Qaeda-linked group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which operates in both Iraq and Syria, security officials said.
At least 32 civilians and 71 ISIL fighters died in the clashes, the officials said, adding that they did not know how many police and tribesmen were killed.
One of them went to where the prayer leader had stood and declared: “We announce that Fallujah is an Islamic state and call you to stand by our side.”
At least 14 people were killed Monday and Tuesday in and near Ramadi, while the tolls from the following two days were not immediately clear.
U.S. troops fought for years, aided by Sunni tribesmen in the Sahwa militia forces from late 2006, to wrest control of Anbar from militants.
Clashes erupted in the Ramadi area 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.
ISIS is the latest incarnation of an Al-Qaeda affiliate that lost ground from 2006, as Sunni tribesmen and former insurgents allied with U.S. troops against jihadists in a process that began in Anbar and came to be known as the “Awakening.”
Prime Minister "Nouri al-Maliki" had sought the closure of the protest camp for a long time, dubbing it a “headquarters for the leadership of Al-Qaeda.”