Iraqis seek political solution to avert army attack on Falluja
Iraqis seek political solution to avert army attack on Falluja

The prospect of an imminent Iraqi army assault on Falluja receded as negotiators tried to work out a deal under which al-Qaeda militants who seized the city 10 days ago would give way to tribal leaders.

Military and local officials said the tanks, artillery and troops around the city 70 km west of Baghdad would not attack while efforts to end the standoff peacefully were under way.

"The decision was made not to attack the city and to create space for local leaders to defuse the crisis", said Falih al-Essawi, a member of Anbar's provincial council who is involved in the negotiations with community leaders in Falluja. He told Reuters by telephone that "the central government totally agreed to this and they fully backed us".

Militants of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is also fighting in neighbouring Syria, took control of Falluja and parts of nearby Ramadi on Jan. 1 with the help of sympathetic armed tribesmen.

At least 60 civilians, militants and tribal fighters have been killed in the two cities since the trouble erupted, 43 of them in Ramadi and 17 in Falluja, health officials in Anbar province said. They had no word on military casualties.

A senior U.S official said Washington was encouraging the government to take a "patient, deliberate and restrained" approach to the Falluja crisis. "I don't anticipate a move into the city by the armed forces", he told reporters on Thursday.

Thousands of Falluja residents have fled in fear of a punishing military assault, but for now the search for a political solution is in the ascendant.

Tribal leaders, clerics and local government officials agreed on Friday to form a new administration for the city, nominating a new mayor and a new local police commander.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Bajari, one of the leading negotiators said "the city is now stable and we are forming a local council to run the city and provide basic services for residents", stressing "I exclude any military strike against Falluja for now, but people are still worried".

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