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Iraq warns militants possess major firepower

Stashed in: Middle East

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Since late December, members of Iraq's al-Qaida branch — known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — have taken over parts of Ramadi, the capital of the largely Sunni western province of Anbar. They also control the center of the nearby city of Fallujah, along with other non-al-Qaida militants who also oppose the Shiite-led government.

Iraqi government forces backed by Sunni tribal militias launched an all-out offensive Sunday to seize back control of Ramadi and surrounding areas from the militants. Five government-allied tribesmen were killed in the initial fighting, and 15 tribesmen and government forces were wounded, provincial spokesman Dhari al-Rishawi said.

Fierce clashes continued Monday, with government forces and allied tribesmen struggling to advance in the face of tough resistance, according to local police.

Al-Rishawi said the al-Qaida militants are especially active at night, and are employing snipers to stop government forces from advancing.

Two policemen and a local television cameraman who had been accompanying them were killed when a roadside bomb hit their convoy inside Ramadi, police said.

An even bigger fight could lie ahead in nearby Fallujah, which like Ramadi was once a major battleground for U.S. forces.

"The weapons that were brought inside Fallujah are huge and advanced and frankly enough to occupy Baghdad," Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Asadi said in a speech.

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