Al-Qaeda-linked militants have taken full control of Iraq’s western city of Fallujah, witnesses said on Saturday, as intermittent clashes broke out between militias and the military.
“It has turned into a ghost town,” a resident said. “Everything is closed, and streets are empty except for gunmen, and gunfire is frequently heard.” Militants from the Islamist State in Iraq and the Levant have seized large areas in Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province after government forces cleared out an anti-government Sunni protest camp on Monday in Ramadi.
Militants took over Fallujah one day after Iraqi security forces and allied Sunni fighters killed Abu Abdel-Rahman al-Baghdadi, a key leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
In December, the Iraqi military launched an operation in Anbar after 16 military personnel, including a senior commander, were killed in an attack by militants.
Rising violence has raised the prospect of a return to the sectarian violence that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007.
According to UN estimates, 8,868 people were killed in 2013, the highest annual death toll in Iraq in five years.