IS captures dozens of tribesmen in Fallujah, sparking execution fears

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Fighting between Islamic State group and tribesmen in Anbar province city halted amid concerns at potential 'massacre'

An Iraqi flag flies at a look-out post held by Iraqi Shia fighters from the Popular Mobilisation units to monitor the frontline north of Fallujah city on 11 February 2016 (AFP)
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Sunday 21 February 2016 16:55 UTC
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Clashes between Iraqi tribesmen and the Islamic State group in Fallujah have stopped after IS fighters detained dozens of residents, officials said on Sunday.

According to local sources, a number of Sunni tribesmen in Fallujah took up arms against IS on Friday, but tribesmen in three areas of the city "withdrew from the clashes [with IS], fearing for the fate of the detainees," an army lieutenant colonel told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Officials said the fighting began after tribesmen clashed with IS members charged with enforcing religious strictures in the city. The incident then escalated into gunbattles involving members of several tribes. 

"The clashes stopped because of the imbalance of power and fear that the detainees would be executed," said Issa Sayir, who was appointed by the Anbar governor to administer the Fallujah area.

Fallujah, a key city in the Sunni-majority Anbar province some 50 km west of Baghdad, was captured by IS nearly two years ago.

Raja Barakat, a member of the provincial council in Anbar, said: "We now fear that the [IS] organisation will carry out a massacre in the city."

Sayir estimated the number of detainees at around 60, while the lieutenant colonel said the figure was over 110.

"We hold the prime minister [Haider al-Abadi] responsible for any massacre carried out against the people of Fallujah," Barakat said, calling for the launch of a military operation to retake the city.

MP Mohammad al-Karbouli, who is part of the Sunni dominated Solution Block and represents the Anbar province, called on Abadi and the leadership of a US-led anti-IS coalition on Saturday "to redouble their efforts to liberate Fallujah and conduct airdrops in areas liberated by revolutionary forces - and to coordinate with them - with a view to liberating remaining [IS-held] territories".

IS, which has a reputation for extreme violence against its opponents, has already executed a large number of tribesmen elsewhere in Anbar province.

Fallujah is the only Iraqi city apart from IS's main hub, Mosul in the north, still under IS control.

It became the first major Iraqi city to fall to the militant group in early 2014, which went on to capture large swaths of territory in northern and western Iraq later the same year.