BAGHDAD (AP) — A government airstrike killed 25 al-Qaida-linked militants in a besieged province west of Baghdad amid fierce clashes Tuesday between Iraqi special forces and insurgents battling for control of the key cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraqi officials said.
The al-Qaida gains in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar — once bloody battlegrounds for U.S. troops — pose the most serious challenge to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government since the departure of American forces in late 2011.
Iraqi forces and fighters from government-allied Sunni tribes have been battling militants to try to recapture the strategic territory, seized last week by an al-Qaida-linked group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Iraqi military spokesman Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said the Iraqi air force struck an operations center for the militants on the outskirts of Ramadi, the provincial capital, killing 25 fighters who were holed up inside.
He didn’t give more details about how the death toll was confirmed but cited intelligence reports. It was not possible to independently verify the military’s claim.