Middle East

Islamic State gains ground near capital of Iraq’s Anbar province

Islamic State militants gained ground in western Iraq on Wednesday, overrunning several villages on the edge of the capital of Anbar province, police sources and local officials said.

Iraqi police came under attack from the insurgents at dawn in Albu Ghanim and withdrew from the area, about 5 km (3 miles) northeast of the provincial capital Ramadi, sending hundreds of families fleeing.

The militants blew up the police station in Albu Ghanim and advanced further towards Ramadi, seizing the villages of Sofia, Albu Khalifa and Sor, police sources and members of the provincial council said.

Abu Jasim, who left Albu Ghanim soon after it fell early on Wednesday, said the insurgents had set up a checkpoint at the main entrance to the village and planted their black flag there.

"IS stopped us and said we have came to liberate you from these Safavids and rejectionists," Abu Jasim said. Safavid and rejectionist are derogatory terms used by hardline Sunni Islamists to refer to Shi'ites.

"We told them we were leaving because the kids were terrified. They let us go, and we saw bodies lying in the streets, some police and others civilians."

The militants have been making inroads on Ramadi's northern periphery since the government announced a new offensive last week to recapture parts of the Sunni heartland of Anbar, large parts of which Islamic State has held for the past year.

Provincial council member Sabah Karhout said in an interview with Sharqiya TV late on Wednesday that a "lack of planning, financial and military means" had led to the recent losses in Anbar.

Speaking to the same channel, Anbar Governor Sohaib al-Rawi blamed the police for pulling out and said they would be held accountable. A spokesman for the interior ministry rebuffed him.

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