FALLUJA, Iraq: Iraqi government airstrikes killed 19 people, including several children, in Fallujah Monday and Tuesday, a health official in the militant-held city said.
The Iraqi army has been shelling Fallujah, 70 km west of Baghdad, for months, trying to drive out militants from ISIS. The insurgents, backed by discontented local Sunni tribal leaders, overran the city in January.
Ahmad al-Shami, spokesman for the Fallujah health office – the local arm of the national Health Ministry – said the 19 dead included women and children and that Fallujah hospital had also received 38 wounded people since Monday evening.
Residents of Fallujah and the nearby town of Garma said helicopters fired artillery and dropped three barrel bombs on the former and two on the latter.
Barrel bombs – powerful makeshift weapons made from high explosives, cement and metal parts packed into oil drums, usually dropped from helicopters – have gained notoriety in the region because of their use in neighboring Syria by President Bashar Assad’s forces to flatten buildings in rebel-held areas.
Scores of people have died since January in what residents describe as indiscriminate bombardment. In May, witnesses in Fallujah said barrel bombs had been dropped on the city.
The government denies indiscriminate attacks, saying it targets insurgents, but a mid-level security officer in Anbar province has previously confirmed that barrel bombs have been dropped on Fallujah.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Qassim Atta, was not immediately available to comment on this week’s attacks.
Some 560,000 people have fled Anbar province – the large area of western Iraq where Fallujah is located – since ISIS took over in January, according to the International Rescue Committee, a New York-based humanitarian organization.
ISIS took a swathe of northern territory last month in an assault that caused large numbers of government soldiers to desert, shifting the main battleground in a civil war pitting the Shiite-led Baghdad government against a well-equipped Sunni insurgency.
Maliki’s office said Tuesday that he had met Sunni tribal leaders from several provinces where the conflict is raging. Anger with Maliki’s government has encouraged some Sunni armed groups to stick with the hard-line Islamic State despite ideological differences, officials and tribal leaders say.
“He stressed that the tribe was and still is the foundation for protecting the security of areas against the dangers that threaten them, particularly terrorists,” a statement from Maliki’s office said.
The prime minister pledged that “the government would provide the tribes with everything they need to defend their areas.”
The conflict, which threatens to break up Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines, has killed almost 5,600 civilians this year, according to the latest United Nations figures.
In the mainly Shiite town of Nahrawan, east of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded in a market Tuesday killing five people and wounding 13, police and medical sources said.
A roadside bomb targeting an army patrol in the Abu Ghraib area west of Baghdad killed one soldier and wounded four, police and medical sources said. Two mortar rounds landed in the mostly Shiite area of Sabaa al-Bour just north of the capital, killing one person, police and medics there said.
In the town of Abu al-Khasib, south of Basra, gunmen broke into a Sunni mosque Tuesday during prayers, killing the preacher and kidnapping four men who were praying, police sources said.
The body of one of the kidnapped men was found dumped on the side of a road near the mosque, the sources said.