Iraqi State TV reported Islamic State militants killed dozens of prisoners Thursday in the border town of Qaim, in what some say is possible retaliation for government claims that it will soon liberate Anbar province.
A top Anbar tribal leader, Sheikh Naim Qaoud, said the victims come from four different Iraqi tribes and that Islamic State fighters accused them of “collaborating with Iraqi security forces.”
Skirmishes took place in the Anbar province capital of Ramadi, amid expectations of a looming assault by government forces to try to retake territory lost to Islamic State militants. Large chunks of Ramadi are now under Islamic State control.
Al Hayat newspaper reported Islamic State militants pulled out of the Sujariya district during the past 24 hours in order to regroup before the expected government assault.
Forces involved in fight
Anbar council head Sabah al Karhout said the battle to retake the province from the Islamic State group, which he called the “scourge of our era,” has begun. He insisted a wide array of forces, including police, tribal fighters and army troops are involved in the fight.
Karhout claimed refugees would soon be able to return to their homes.
Anbar province Governor Suheib al Rawi said the battle to liberate Ramadi is under way and the morale of those fighting to defeat the Islamic State group is high. He said arms are being distributed to local volunteers and 1,500 men are preparing to fight in Anbar's second-largest city, Faluja.
During a visit Wednesday to Habbaniyah airbase east of Ramadi, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said all Iraqis would fight together to retake Anbar province, and no looting or sectarian retribution would be tolerated.
Some Sunni political leaders have accused Shi'ite volunteer militiamen of torturing Sunni residents of the town of Tikrit, which was liberated from Islamic State militants two weeks ago. Amateur video also showed militia members looting and burning homes and shops in and around Tikrit.
Analyst James Denselow of the London-based Foreign Policy Center told VOA that complications over the liberation of Tikrit from the Islamic State group have pushed back projections for the battle to liberate Mosul.
Denselow said Anbar will be a trial for the larger battle to come
“The Iraqi military, in and of themselves, did not have the firepower to deal with Tikrit. They need a lot of support from militias, from the Americans, from the Iranians," he said.
"At this moment, post-Tikrit, where people are worried about revenge killings and sectarian cleansing, the whole plan depends on this being a unity operation, rather than one sect ruling against another,” Denselow said.
In related developments, German media reported Islamic State militants lost control of three lucrative oil fields after being forced out of Tikrit. Some analysts said the group is able to finance part of its operations from oil sales.
The Islamist group still controls a number of oil fields in northern and eastern of Syria.