CAIRO - Arab satellite channels say heavy fighting has engulfed the Anbar province capital Ramadi after Islamic State militants attacked the Iraqi city early Friday. Witnesses say a number of government buildings have fallen to the militants, but that the main provincial headquarters compound remains in government hands.
Automatic rifle fire crackled in the empty streets of Ramadi Friday, after Islamic State militants launched a multi-pronged attack on the city. The militants are trying to capture key government buildings.
A tribal leader from the Aissawi Tribe says the army, police and tribal fighters were able to drive back most of the Islamic State attackers, but that a top police commander was killed. He thinks Islamic State was hoping to open a new front in Ramadi after serious reverses in other places.
Arabiya TV reports Islamic State brought reinforcements towards Ramadi during the night from the west of the city, via the main international highway, which runs from the Jordanian border. The militants control large chunks of the highway, as well villages along the Euphrates River, north of Ramadi.
Caught off guard
The surprise Islamic State attack appears to have taken government forces off guard, since shops and public buildings are closed on Fridays for prayers. Iraqi state media had been touting a government offensive against the militants in nearby Hit, just a day earlier.
Witnesses reported smoke from a number of government buildings, although it wasn't clear if the militants had deliberately set fire to them. Arab TV channels say loudspeakers from mosque minarets were used to call for reinforcements against the militants. Government forces and local tribesmen reportedly massed to the east of Ramadi.
Iraqi security forces control two major bases near Ramadi, the Ain al Assad base, northwest of the city and the Habaniya Airbase to the east. U.S. advisors stationed in the Ain al Assad base are helping the Iraqi forces.
Heavy fighting between government forces and Islamic State militants was also reported in the Diyala province town of Miqdadiya. Iraqi Parliament Speaker Selim al Jabouri met with Defense Minister Khaled al Obeidi and Interior Minister Mohammed Salim al Ghaban in Diyala, Friday.
Jabouri complained that Shi'ite volunteer militiamen have been terrorizing local residents in parts of Diyala province and that this was having an adverse effect on their support for the government and destabilizing the area.
Visiting Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davoutoglu met with Kurdish Leader Massoud Barzani in the Kurdish provincial capital irbil, Friday. Davoutoglu met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi in Baghdad, Thursday, vowing to help Iraq in its battle against Islamic State militants.
Iraqi forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters have been battling the Sunni militant Islamic State group, which swept through large areas of northern and western Iraq earlier this year.
Increase in violence
Iraq as a whole has seen a huge surge in violence in 2014. Data from the United Nations Mission in Iraq indicate more than 13,000 civilians and security forces were killed through the end of October this year — a 75 percent increase from the same period in 2013.
At the Pentagon, meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel held separate talks Friday with Saudi Arabian National Guard Minister Prince Mitib bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Omani Defense Minister Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah.
Both countries have been steadfast U.S. allies in coalition airstrikes on Islamic State militants.
Hagel thanked the two ministers for their support as well as their efforts to help train the moderate Syrian opposition fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
Some information in this report was provided by Reuters and AFP.