Mourners cry at a cemetery in Fallujah yesterday during the funeral of a relative killed in a mortar attack.
Sunni gunmen, including fighters linked to Al Qaeda, made gains in the contested Iraqi city of Ramadi yesterday in a setback for pro-government forces, as attacks killed 18 around the capital.
The clashes came after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appealed to Iraqi leaders to address the “root causes” of nationwide unrest, echoing calls from diplomats for Baghdad to focus more on political reconciliation.
But Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ruled out talks to resolve the standoff, as April 30 parliamentary elections loom and his government faces the worst protracted period of bloodshed since Iraq was emerging from a brutal Sunni-Shia sectarian war in 2008.
Parts of Ramadi and all of Fallujah, just 60km from Baghdad, fell out of government control more than two weeks ago, the first time militants have exercised such open control in major cities since the height of the insurgency that followed the US-led invasion of 2003.
In recent days, Iraqi forces and allied tribes had been retaking areas of Ramadi, the Anbar provincial capital, from militants and anti-government tribesmen. The latest clashes represent a setback for Baghdad and threaten to further prolong the crisis.
Gunmen, including those affiliated with the Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), seized all or parts of a half-dozen neighbourhoods in the south and centre of the city in firefights that began late Monday evening and continued yesterday, according to a police captain.
Two policemen were killed and five others wounded in the clashes, and three police vehicles set ablaze, according to Dr Ahmed al-Ani of the city’s main hospital.
Sporadic clashes continued in the affected neighbourhoods yesterday, while shelling struck the Andalus neighbourhood of central Ramadi and damaged houses, a police officer said.
Most civil servants have returned to work and many shops reopened, but schools remained closed.
Gunfights also erupted in the Albubali area between Ramadi and Fallujah where security forces have repeatedly clashed with militants.
In Baghdad, shootings and bombings across the capital and a nearby town killed 18 people, including a senior judge.
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