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Clashes in militant-held Iraq city halt after residents seized

By AFP - Feb 21,2016 - Last updated at Feb 21,2016

BAGHDAD — Clashes between Iraqi tribesmen and the Daesh terror group in Fallujah have halted after the extremists detained dozens of residents of the city west of Baghdad, officials said on Sunday.

The fighting between the Sunni Arab tribesmen and Daesh in Fallujah, one of two cities it still holds in Iraq, challenges the extremists’ ability to maintain control.

But officials said tribesmen were running short of supplies on Saturday, and Daesh, which is known for its extreme violence, has already executed a large number of opponents elsewhere in Anbar province.

Tribesmen in three areas of Fallujah "withdrew from the clashes [with Daesh], fearing for the fate of the detainees", an army lieutenant colonel told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"The clashes stopped because of the imbalance of power and fear that the detainees would be executed," said Issa Sayir who was appointed by the Anbar governor to administer the Fallujah area.

Sayir said Daesh was likely to execute Fallujah residents for their alleged "cooperation with the security forces".

Raja Barakat, a member of the provincial council in Anbar, where Fallujah is located, said: "We now fear that the [Daesh] organisation will carry out a massacre in the city."

Sayir estimated the number of detainees at around 60, while the lieutenant colonel said the figure was over 110 and a tribal leader said more than 100.

Sheikh Majeed Al Juraisi, a leader in one of the tribes fighting the extremists in Fallujah, said Daesh had seized the residents over the previous two days.

"We hold the prime minister responsible for any massacre carried out against the people of Fallujah," Barakat said, calling for the launch of a military operation to retake the city.

Both Sayir and the army officer said a military operation would be launched in the Fallujah area in coming days, but it may come too late for the detainees in the city.

Officials said the clashes began on Friday as a fight between tribesmen and Al Hisba, Daesh members charged with enforcing the religious strictures of the extremist group in the city.

The fighting escalated into gunbattles involving members of several tribes.

Daesh launched a sweeping offensive that overran swathes of Iraq in June 2014, but security forces and allied fighters have pushed the extremists back with US-led air support.

Fallujah, 50 kilometres west of Baghdad, is the only Iraqi city apart from Daesh's main hub, Mosul in the north, still under extremists control.

The militants also hold other areas, including large towns such as Tal Afar and Hawijah.

Anti-government fighters seized Fallujah in early 2014 during unrest that broke out after security forces demolished a protest camp in western Iraq, and it later became an Daesh stronghold.

The tens of thousands of civilians in Fallujah are facing increasingly dire living conditions, and officials say Daesh is preventing people from leaving the city, which has largely been cut off by security forces.

 

There are an estimated 300 to 400 Daesh fighters inside Fallujah, but the extremists have repeatedly seized areas and defended others for extended periods despite being heavily outnumbered.

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