|Time to end al-Qaeda presence in Falluja: Maliki||
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Wednesday it was time to clear al-Qaeda-linked militants out of the rebel-held city of Falluja, but set no deadline for any military assault.
"The time has come to settle this issue and end the presence of this gang in this city and save its people from their evil," Maliki said in his weekly televised address to the nation.
Three hours later, helicopter gunships bombarded eastern and northern districts of Falluja, residents said. It was not clear if that was the prelude to wider military action.
Maliki again urged the people of Falluja to "to take crucial positions on the presence of those dirty people without losses and without sacrifices," but set no precise time limit.
"Those criminals are seeking to ignite sectarian strife and to end up with the division of Iraq," Maliki said.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda offshoot also on the frontlines of Syria's civil war, overran Falluja with help from other terrorist groups on January 1.
Iraqi troops and security forces have set up a loose cordon around the city, 50 km (31 miles) west of Baghdad, and have clashed sporadically with insurgents inside, but Maliki has said community leaders and tribesmen should force ISIL to withdraw, in order to spare Falluja more bloodshed and destruction.
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