(MENAFN - Arab News) A suicide bombing and shelling in Iraq's Anbar province killed six people as security forces on Friday pressed an assault against militants for territory the government lost weeks ago.
The unrest in Anbar coupled with violence elsewhere in Iraq, which has already killed more than 600 people this month, has fuelled fears the country is slipping back into all-out sectarian war with little appetite for compromise among political leaders ahead of a general election scheduled for April.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon and other diplomats have urged Baghdad to pursue political reconciliation, but Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ruled out dialogue with militants and the authorities have instead trumpeted operations by the police and army.
Iraqi officials say clashes with militants and a suicide attack have killed five people, including three anti-Al-Qaeda fighters, in the embattled western Anbar province.
Hospital officials say a battle between security forces and Al-Qaeda fighters early on Friday in the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, killed two civilians who were caught in the crossfire.
Police officials say a suicide bomber detonated his explosives among a gathering of an anti-Al-Qaeda militia late Thursday in the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi, killing three militiamen and wounding four.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
Since December, Iraqi security forces and allied tribesmen have been trying to recapture territories overran by Al-Qaeda in Anbar, including Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. On Friday, thousands of security personnel from elite forces pressed an assault on Albubali, a rural area where security officials say a large number of anti-government fighters are holed up.
The area, comprised of farmland and villages, lies between Ramadi and Fallujah, the two cities in the western desert province of Anbar at the center of the crisis.
Security forces are also seeking to recover the bodies of eight of their own who have been killed in militant attacks.
The air support which initially accompanied the operation has been withdrawn for fear that the militants have anti-aircraft weapons, two policemen told AFP.
They said that security forces, backed by tanks, had so far recovered the bodies of six gunmen killed in the offensive, but progress was limited by snipers.
A large swathe of Ramadi and all of Fallujah, both former insurgent bastions, fell out of government control late last month, marking the first time anti-government fighters have exercised such open control in major cities since the height of the insurgency that followed the US-led invasion of 2003.