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Fighting in Iraq's Anbar province intensifies

The fighting pitting the Iraqi security forces and local tribesmen against the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has intensified in western Iraq.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry said on Monday that the air force bombarded militants' hideouts in the western province of Anbar, killing a number of "terrorists."

The army and allied tribesmen also fought the militants around the provincial capital of Ramadi on Sunday, according to two Anbar government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Baghdad on Monday to discuss regional issues with the Iraqi government.

He voiced concern over the violence hitting Anbar province.

    "The situation in Anbar Governorate, particularly in Fallujah and Ramadi, is a source of grave concern. The security situation in Iraq is undoubtedly a source of great concern," Ban said during a joint news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The violence in Anbar broke out on December 30, 2013, when the army removed an anti-government protest camp in Ramadi. Authorities said the camp was used as "headquarters for the leadership of al-Qaeda." The bloodshed later spread to nearby Fallujah.

Head of Anbar's health directorate Khudeir Shalal said on Saturday the two-week clashes killed 43 people in the city of Ramadi and another 17 were killed in Fallujah, putting the overall death toll at 60.

On Sunday, the Iraqi prime minister vowed to rid Fallujah of the so-called ISIL militants without a military assault.

"We want to end the presence of those militants without any bloodshed because the people of Fallujah have suffered a lot," Maliki said, referring to the devastating bombing of the city by US forces in 2004.

Maliki said he intends to give local tribesmen time to rid the area of the militants to avoid civilian casualties.

"There is a good response from Fallujah's sons and tribes," the Iraqi leader said. "We do not care how long this takes."

"The important thing is not to attack the city and kill innocent people because of those criminals," he added.

[Source: Press TV, Tehran, 14Jan14]

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