Fighters of al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the
Levant parade at the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, near the
border with Turkey. REUTERS/Yaser Al-Khodor
Dressed in black and waving al Qaeda flags, Islamist
insurgents battled tribesmen for control of the Iraqi city of
Ramadi, while in Fallujah they grabbed loudspeakers after
weekly prayers to call for support.
The militants, who have been tightening their grip on the
Anbar region near war-torn Syria for months, stormed police
stations in both cities on Wednesday. The next day, the Sunni
tribesmen made a deal with Iraq's Shi'ite-led government to
fight them. Dozens of militants were reported killed on
"There is no way to let al Qaeda keep any foothold in Anbar,"
said one tribal leader, who asked not to be named. "The
battle is fierce and not easy because they are hiding inside
The turmoil, and recent deadly attacks in Lebanon, illustrate
how the war in Syria, where mostly Sunni rebels are battling
President Bashar al Assad, who is backed by Shi'ite power
Iran, threatens to tear apart neighbouring countries.
Al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is
trying to create a state ruled according to strict medieval
Sunni Islamic practice across the Iraqi-Syrian border and has
joined forces with powerful groups fighting against Assad.
At least 40 of the militants, who fought with machine guns
and pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, were
killed in Ramadi, medical and tribal sources told Reuters.
There was no casualty figure for tribesmen or security
The army, which had withdrawn from Anbar on Monday, has been
deployed on the outskirts of Ramadi and Falluja to back the
tribesmen against al Qaeda, in what is set to be a critical
test of strength for the government.
TIPPING THE BALANCE?
The deal with the tribesmen against al Qaeda echoed a
decision by local tribes in 2006 to join forces with U.S.
troops and rise up against al Qaeda forces who seized control
of most of Iraq's Sunni areas after the 2003 U.S. invasion.
American troops and local tribes finally beat al Qaeda back
in heavy fighting after a "surge" of U.S. forces in 2006-07.
Tension has been high in Anbar, which occupies a third of
Iraq's territory, since police broke up a Sunni protest camp
on Monday. At least 13 people were killed in clashes.
Many Iraqis feared the country was heading for an explosion
of Shi'ite-on-Sunni bloodshed that would fracture it along
On Thursday tribesmen, angry at what they perceive as Sunni
marginalisation in politics, clashed with Iraqi troops trying
to regain control of Falluja and Ramadi.
But the late Thursday agreement between the tribes and the
government appeared to go some way towards tipping the
balance against Islamist militants seeking to establish local
"Those people are criminals who want to take over the city
and kill the community," said Sheikh Rafe'a Abdulkareem Albu
Fahad, who is leading the tribal fight against al-Qaeda in
He said around 60 militants were killed in the fighting,
declining to give a casualty figure for the other side.
Reuters could not independently verify that death toll.
Fighting was getting increasingly difficult as militants had
positioned snipers on top of the buildings, Fahad said.
Further complicating the situation, not all the tribesmen
were prepared to join the fighting against al Qaeda in Anbar,
where tribal ties are strong.
"Some tribes are against this fighting. They cannot do
anything but they are just not cooperating," said one tribal
leader on condition of anonymity.
There were no clashes between tribesmen and militants in
Falluja, eyewitnesses said, but masked insurgents have
control over large parts of the city and have set up several
checkpoints in the city.
Islamist militants grabbed loudspeakers after Friday's
prayers to call on worshippers to back them, the witnesses