Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called on residents of Fallujah to expel the “terrorists” holding the city to spare it from an assault by the army, state television reported.
On Monday, Maliki called on “the people of Fallujah and its tribes to expel the terrorists” so “their areas are not subjected to the danger of armed clashes.”
Maliki also said he had ordered security forces “not to strike residential areas,” the television added.
Fallujah, west of Baghdad is reportedly outside government control. Terrorists have also held parts of Anbar provincial capital Ramadi for days.
It is the first time terrorists have exercised such open control in major cities since the height of the bloody insurgency that followed the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
Security officials said Maliki, who is also commander in chief of the armed forces, had agreed to hold off an offensive for now at least to give tribal leaders in Falluja more time to drive out the terrorists on their own.
“No specific deadline was determined, but it will not be open-ended,” a special forces officer said of plans to attack, according to Reuters.
“We are not prepared to wait too long. We’re talking about a matter of days only. More time means more strength for terrorists”.
Two local tribal leaders said meetings were being held with clerics and community leaders to find a way to persuade fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to quit Falluja and avert further bloodshed.
ISIL has emerged in Syria’s civil war as an affiliate of the international al-Qaeda network and a powerful force among Sunni Muslim rebels seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
In Iraq, it has been tightening its grip on Anbar province, a thinly populated, mainly Sunni region the size of Greece, and on the area’s main towns, strung along the Euphrates River. Its stated aim has been to create a Sunni state straddling the border into Syria’s rebel-held desert provinces.
Some armed tribesmen from Iraq’s once dominant Sunni minority have been fighting ISIL terrorists in the area since last week. But others baulk at taking sides with the Shia government in Baghdad.
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