Iraqi security forces killed dozens of al-Qaeda militants who attacked a village in western Anbar province on Wednesday, during fierce clashes that lasted much of the day, police officials said on Thursday.
Sunni tribal leaders are involved in an escalating power struggle with Sunni al-Qaeda for control of Anbar, a vast desert province that is the heart of the Sunni Arab insurgency in Iraq.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Abdul Karim Khalaf said foreign Arabs and Afghans were among about 80 militants killed and 50 captured in the clashes in Amiriyat al Falluja, a village where local tribes had opposed al Qaeda.
A police official in the area, Ahmed al-Falluji, put the number of militants killed at 70, with three police killed.
There was no immediate verification of the number of casualties from medical sources.
A United States military spokesperson in the nearby city of Falluja, Major Jeff Pool, said US forces were not involved in the battle but had received reports from Iraqi police that it lasted most of Wednesday. He could not confirm the number killed.
Another police source in Falluja said dozens were killed.
”Because it was so many killed we can’t give an exact number for the death toll,” the police source told Reuters.
Witnesses said dozens of al-Qaeda members attacked the village, prompting residents to flee and seek help from Iraqi security forces, who sent in police and soldiers.
The escalating power struggle within the Sunni community in Anbar comes as US and Iraqi troops concentrate efforts in Baghdad to stem violence between Shi’ites and Sunnis that is pushing the country to civil war.
It also occurs ahead of a planned reinforcement in Anbar by 4Ã‚Â 000 US troops, who could find themselves in the middle of the deadly rivalry. The US military has encouraged an alliance of Sunni tribesmen against al-Qaeda in the province, the deadliest place for American troops in Iraq.
A truck bomb last Saturday near a Sunni mosque in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, killed 52 people. That blast occurred a day after the mosque’s imam made a speech criticising al-Qaeda.
The US military says it cannot defeat al-Qaeda in Anbar without the help of the traditionally minded tribal leaders, who oppose the militant group’s plan to impose an Islamic caliphate. — Reuters