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Fallujah clashes leave 22 dead, dozens wounded

At least 22 people have been killed and 36 wounded following shelling in and around Iraq's restive city of Fallujah
Iraqis inspect destruction in the street following an explosion in Baghdad on 29 May (AFP)

Fresh clashes and shelling which erupted on Sunday in and around the conflict-hit Iraqi city of Fallujah has killed 22 people, medical sources said. 

The unrest also left 36 wounded, Doctor Ahmed Shami from the city's main hospital said on Monday.

"The victims include five women and two children," said Wessam al-Essawi, the spokesperson for the Fallujah General Hospital, which received the bodies of the victims.

Tribal leader Mahmud al-Zobaie said the violence in the city, which lies just a short drive from Baghdad, broke out at midday and went on for hours.

He said shelling hit a half-dozen neighbourhoods in northern, southern and central Fallujah, while Iraqi security forces engaged in clashes with anti-government fighters on the city's northern and southern outskirts.

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More than 350 people have been killed in the Fallujah area since militants took control of the city at the start of the year. According to Shami, most of the casualties have been civilians caught in the shelling.

Security forces have shelled Fallujah for months and repeatedly tried to storm the city in a bid to re-take it, but anti-government fighters have maintained their grip.

The crisis in the desert province of Anbar, which borders Syria and of which Fallujah is a part, began in late December when security forces dismantled a longstanding protest camp maintained by the province's mainly Sunni Arab population to vent grievances against the government.

Militants subsequently seized parts of the provincial capital Ramadi and all of Fallujah, the first time anti-government forces have exercised such open control in major cities since the peak of the deadly violence that followed the US-led invasion of 2003.

They have held all of Fallujah since, and protracted battles have continued for Ramadi.

The unrest in Fallujah is part of a year-long surge in nationwide violence that has left more than 4,000 people dead so far this year, according to an AFP tally.

Figures separately compiled by the United Nations and Iraq's government showed more than 900 people were killed last month alone, with bloodletting at its worst since 2008, when Iraq was emerging from a brutal Sunni-Shiite sectarian war.

Officials blame external factors for the rise in bloodshed, particularly the civil war in neighbouring Syria, and insist wide-ranging operations against militants, especially in Anbar, are having an impact.

But the violence has continued unabated, while analysts and diplomats insist the Shiite-led government must do more to reach out to the disaffected Sunni minority in order to undermine support for militancy.

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