Iraq\’s prime minister has urged residents and tribes in the besieged city of Fallujah to "expel" al-Qaida-linked militants in order to preempt a military offensive that officials said could be launched within days.
Nouri al-Maliki\’s message on state television came as dozens of families were fleeing the city Monday in fear of a major showdown.
Later, in Washington, White House spokesperson Jay Carney said the United States is accelerating its military sales and deliveries to Iraq to help the country fight al-Qaida-linked Islamist insurgents.
He said the U.S. would send more surveillance drones and Hellfire missiles to Iraq this year but that Iraq must take the lead and handle the conflict itself.
Iraqi government troops have surrounded Fallujah, which lies in western Sunni-dominated Anbar province and which was overrun along with most parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi, by al-Qaida fighters last week.
Maliki, a Shi\’ite whose government has little support in Sunni Fallujah, also said in his address that he ordered security forces not to strike residential areas.
Security officials said the prime minister had agreed to hold off an offensive for now to give tribal leaders in Fallujah more time to drive out the Islamist militants on their own.
On Sunday, fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamist fighters killed at least 34 people and government forces launched an air strike on Ramadi.
Insurgents from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have been fending off government forces and allied tribal fighters, including some Sunnis who oppose the militants.
Violence between Iraq\’s Shi\’ite-led government and the Sunni minority has killed thousands over the last year.
The Sunnis accuse the government of ignoring their needs and shoving them to the political sidelines. Iraqi officials accuse the Sunnis of involvement in terrorism.
Source: VOA and agencies