Islamic State militants took over the local government compound in the Iraqi city of Ramadi on Friday, raising their black flag in the Anbar province capital, after months of protracted conflict.
An Iraqi parliamentarian told VOA's Kurdish service the city is not in complete Islamic State control, however. Iraqi government forces continue to hold out in several other government buildings,while coalition aircraft bombed militant positions.
Anbar provincial council member Rajah Aissawi said that Ramadi has experienced a "catastrophe." He said the militants launched a massive attack, using over a dozen suicide vehicles and causing numerous casualties.
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Marine Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley, the chief of staff for the U.S. command leading the campaign against the IS group, told reporters Friday that Iraqi forces were "able to repel most of the attacks" in Ramadi but Islamic State fighters still advanced in contested areas.
He added that coalition air forces conducted 12 raids in the area in the last three days.
An Iraqi tribal leader, Sheikh Aref Moukheiber Alwani told al-Arabiya that leaders of his Alwani tribe had repeatedly asked the Iraqi government to send arms and reinforcements, but to no avail.
Amateur video showed Ramadi residents fleeing the city in their vehicles, as automatic rifle fire could be heard in the background. The situation on the ground appeared chaotic and it was not clear who was in control of the area.
Iraqi parliament speaker Selim Jabouri claimed that outside forces were undermining the will of the Iraqi people to fight the Islamic militants and making the battle extremely difficult.
Some in Iraq fear that U.S. policy could make Iraq's sectarian tensions even worse.
Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, tells VOA the fall of parts of Ramadi could boost the idea of arming Sunni fighters directly.
Some U.S. lawmakers have proposed bypassing Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated central government and giving military aid straight to Sunni and Kurdish forces fighting IS, an idea rejected by the Obama administration and Baghdad.
"The government in Baghdad has been reluctant to arm the Sunni tribes in Iraq and the failure of the Iraqi Army to stop Islamic State from taking (Ramadi) suggests that the government was wrong and the Americans need to directly arm the Sunni tribes in Anbar," Khashan said.
Fighting continued in other parts of Anbar province Friday, with government forces reportedly bombing Islamic State militants in parts of Fallujah, Anbar's second largest city. The militants also reportedly laid siege to the town of Nahiya al Baghdadi, north of Ramadi, cutting roads into the area.
VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb and VOA's Kurdish service contributed to this report