Bombings kill at least 15 in Baghdad as Iraq readies attack to retake Fallujah

Bombings kill at least 15 in Baghdad as Iraq readies attack to retake Fallujah

BAGHDAD - Agence France-Presse
Bombings kill at least 15 in Baghdad as Iraq readies attack to retake Fallujah

raqi security forces and people gather at the site of a road side bomb attack in central Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 5. AP photo

A series of bombings killed at least 15 people in Baghdad on Jan. 5, officials said, as militants held a major city and part of another west of the Iraqi capital.

The three car bombs and one roadside bomb, which hit three separate areas of Baghdad, also wounded at least 40 people, the officials said.

The bombings come as militants hold the city of Fallujah, just 60 kilometres from Baghdad, as well as parts of Ramadi, farther west.

Anbar has in recent days seen the worst violence to hit the province in years, killing over 160 people in the last two days.

Violence in Iraq has reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings.

Iraq readying 'major attack' to retake Fallujah

Meanwhile, Iraq is preparing a "major attack" to retake militant-held Fallujah, a senior official said. 

The announcement came as Washington said it would help Baghdad in its battle against Al-Qaeda-linked militants but that there would be no return of U.S. troops.

The takeover of Fallujah and parts of Anbar provincial capital Ramadi, farther west, is the first time that militants have exercised such open control in major cities since the height of the bloody insurgency that followed the US-led invasion of 2003.

"Iraqi forces are preparing for a major attack in Fallujah," a senior Iraqi official told AFP. Special forces have already conducted operations inside the city, the official said.

The regular army has paused on the edge of the city to allow residents time to leave, awaiting orders to launch "the attack to crush the terrorists."

Fallujah is in the hands of fighters of the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a senior security official said on Jan. 4.

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Jan. 5 that the United States would provide assistance to Iraqi forces in their battle against the militants but that it was "their fight".

Kerry said Washington was "very, very concerned" about the resurgence of ISIL but said it was not contemplating any return of U.S. ground troops, after their withdrawal in December 2011.

Fighting erupted in the Ramadi area on December 30, when security forces cleared a year-old protest camp where Sunni Arabs demonstrated against what they see as the marginalisation and targeting of their minority community by the Shiite-led government.

The violence then spread to Fallujah, and the subsequent withdrawal of security forces from parts of both cities cleared the way for militants to seize control.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had long sought the closure of the protest camp outside Ramadi, dubbing it a "headquarters for the leadership of Al-Qaeda." But its removal has caused a sharp decline in the security situation.

ISIL is the latest incarnation of Al-Qaeda's Iraq affiliate and has made a striking comeback this year, taking advantage of widespread discontent among Sunnis and its newfound bases in neighbouring Syria, where it has become a major player in the nearly three-year-old conflict.