BAGHDAD (AP) — Fighting between security forces and al-Qaida-linked militants in Iraq's Sunni-dominated Anbar province has killed at least 60 people over the past two weeks, an official said Saturday.
The head of Anbar's Health Directorate, Khudeir Shalal, said that 43 people were killed in the city of Ramadi and other 17 were killed in Fallujah since violence erupted in the western province after the Dec. 28 arrest of a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges and the dismantling of an anti-government Sunni protest camp in Ramadi.
Shalal said a total of 297 people were wounded in both cities. He was unable to provide a breakdown of how many of the dead were combatants and how many might have been civilians caught in the fighting. He said Iraqi military casualties were not included.
At least 50 civilians and militants were killed during the military operations in Anbar during the past two weeks, according to an Associated Press count.
International observers have warned of shortages of food, fuel and other necessities, particularly in Fallujah. United Nations records show that more than 11,000 families have been uprooted by the fighting.
Iraqi security forces and allied Sunni tribesmen have been battling militants to recapture the cities, partially seized by fighters from an al-Qaida-linked group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
On Friday night, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement condemning the Ramadi and Fallujah attacks and praised Iraqi security forces, local police and tribes in Anbar combating them.
Al-Qaida militants, emboldened by the civil war in neighboring Syria, have sought to position themselves as the champions of Sunnis against the Shiite-led government, though major Sunni tribes in Anbar and elsewhere oppose the group's extremist ideology and are fighting against it.
During a political gathering in Baghdad on Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for national unity among Iraqis in the war against al-Qaida, denying that there are sectarian motivations behind the military action in Anbar.
"It is your war, all of you (Iraqis) whether you like or not. ... It is not the war of a specific group. It is the war of all sects, ethnic groups, religions and partners in this country. The fire will reach everybody," al-Maliki said.
Saturday afternoon, police and hospital officials said one gunman was killed and three were wounded during sporadic clashes between Iraqi soldiers and militants in the eastern edge of Fallujah. Also, five people were wounded when a mortar shell landed on their house in Fallujah, officials said.
The violence continued elsewhere in the country as well. Gunmen killed two police officers manning a security checkpoint in the northern city of Mosul, police and hospital officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to journalists.