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Al-Qaeda militants in Iraq claim Falluja as ‘independent state’

Black-clad Sunni militants of al-Qaeda destroyed the Falluja police headquarters and mayor’s office, planted their flag atop other government buildings and decreed the western Iraqi city to be their new independent state on Friday in an escalating threat to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whose forces were struggling to retake control late into the night.

The advances by militants — members of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria— came after days of fighting in Falluja, Ramadi and other areas of Anbar Province. The region is a centre of Sunni extremism that has grown more intense in reaction to Maliki’s Shia-dominated government in Baghdad and the neighbouring civil war in Syria.

Assertions by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters that they were in complete control of Falluja were disputed by government security forces and an alliance of tribal leaders who have joined them. By nightfall, the security forces and tribal militia members had recaptured a part of the main street and a municipal building.

Mohamed al-Isawi, head of the Falluja police, in a telephone interview said he was gathering men in an area north of Falluja, as a staging ground for what he hoped would be a decisive battle to retake full control of the city.

“We succeeded with the tribesmen in getting back the main street of Falluja after a big fight,” Isawi said, “and now we are keen to fight the terrorists and liberate our city from any traces of the criminals.”

The group’s fighters cut power lines in Falluja late in the day and ordered residents not to use their backup generators. In one area of Falluja, a militant said over a mosque loudspeaker: “We are God’s rule on Earth! No one can defeat God’s will!”

The group advanced hours after a short period of calm had returned to the city, where the traffic police and street cleaners resumed work and mosque loudspeakers exhorted stores to reopen so hungry residents could buy food.

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