Government forces in Iraq and tribal militias allied with them, launched an offensive on Sunday in an attempt to push forces linked to al-Qaeda from a city just to the west of Baghdad, said an Iraqi military officer.
Since the latter part of December members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, have taken sections of Ramadi, the capital of the province of Anbar, which is largely populated by Sunnis.
The group is also controlling the center of Fallujah nearby to Ramadi along with other groups that are not linked to al-Qaeda, but oppose the current government that is led by Shiites.
The military official said clashes of large magnitude were taking place. However, no other details were released. Only hours after the government announced the large offensive, the Prime Minister of Iraq vowed to continue to fight terrorism, but was willing to use a political solution to fix the problem.
Nouri al-Maliki said during his speech that the battle was to beat then eliminate terrorism, though we are open to any proposal, solution and political meeting that would realize that destroying terrorism, along with al-Qaeda, its allies and different formations was a top priority.
To Baghdad’s east, gunmen fired Sunday at a checkpoint operated by a pro-government and anti-al-Qaeda tribal militia made up of Sunnis outside Baqouba. The attack killed a leader in the area and four of his assistants. Baqouba is a former stronghold of al-Qaeda and is only 35 miles from Baghdad.
The Awakening Council, a militia of Sunnis, was formed while the insurgency was at its height, by U.S. forces. Other branches of al-Qaeda and militant groups look at the Council as traitors.
Over the last year, violence has increased across Iraq, particularly since late December after authorities closed a protest camp of anti-government Sunnis and arrested a lawmaker who is Sunni, on charges of terrorism.
In 2013, the country experienced the largest death toll for the year since the worst part of the bloodletting due to sectarian differences in the country, started to drop back in 2007.
The United Nations said that 8,858 people were killed due to violence.