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Al-Qaida asks Iraqis in embattled city for support

Thursday - 1/16/2014, 6:40pm  ET

SAMEER N. YACOUB
Associated Press

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Members of al-Qaida's branch in Iraq handed out pamphlets in Fallujah on Thursday, urging people to take up arms and back them in their weekslong fight against government troops for control of the city.

While the militants battled Iraqi security forces in and around Fallujah and Ramadi, police outside the capital, Baghdad, found the bullet-riddled bodies of 14 Sunni men who had been abducted from a funeral by gunmen wearing military uniforms. It was a grim reminder of similar slayings at the height of the war about six years ago.

Iraqi forces and allied Sunni tribesmen have been fighting to recapture key territories overrun by al-Qaida militants in the country's Sunni-dominated Anbar province, including its two main cities, Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi, which are west Baghdad.

Violence has escalated in Iraq over the past year, particularly since late last month after authorities dismantled an anti-government Sunni protest camp and arrested a Sunni lawmaker on terrorism charges. To alleviate the tension, the army pulled back from the two cities, but that allowed al-Qaida militants to seize control.

Speaking to The Associated Press by telephone, Fallujah residents said al-Qaida militants distributed pamphlets with the emblem of their group -- the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- at main city intersections Wednesday and Thursday.

The pamphlets called on Fallujah residents to join the fight, give money or open their homes as shelters, the residents said. They spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety.

Another pamphlet announced that al-Qaida would form a Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice that would look into the disputes among residents of Fallujah, 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad.

Clashes between the militants security forces continued in two Fallujah neighborhoods from late Wednesday to early Thursday, the residents said.

A medical official said the city hospital received the bodies of seven men killed in the fighting and that 13 were wounded. He was unable to provide a breakdown of how many of the dead were militants and how many might have been civilians caught up in the clashes.

Elsewhere in the province, Iraqi state television said security forces and allied tribal fighters clashed with militants inside and around Ramadi on Thursday, retaking several areas captured earlier by al-Qaida fighters. No more details were given.

Two senior military officials said that one soldier was killed and three others were wounded by sniper fire during a clash in the village of al-Bubali, between Fallujah and Ramadi. The officials said that the militants have booby-trapped some houses in the village to slow the advance of the army troops.

In a particularly grisly discovery Thursday, police found the bullet-riddled bodies of 14 men -- including nine from the same family -- in an orchard near the Sunni-dominated town of Mishahda. Authorities said gunmen wearing military uniforms kidnapped the men from a funeral Wednesday night. It wasn't clear who rounded up and killed the men.

In Baghdad's eastern suburb of Nahrawan, a bomb exploded in an outdoor market, killing three civilians and wounding six, a police officer said. Another bomb went off in a commercial area of Baghdad's western Ghazaliyah neighborhood, killing two civilians and wounding nine, he said.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.

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Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.


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