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Iraqi air force accused of using barrel bombs in Fallujah

Parts of Anbar provincial capital Ramadi and all of Fallujah have been outside Iraqi government control for over three months
The Iraqi armed forces have yet to comment on 'barrel bomb' allegations (AFP)

The Iraqi air force used "barrel bombs" to strike residential areas of Fallujah, a local chieftain said Monday.

"Army forces have begun using barrel bombs against civilians in the Karmah district," Sheikh Rafei Meshhen told Anadolu Agency.

"One army aircraft dropped a barrel packed with explosive charges on Karmah, damaging agricultural land but leaving no casualties," he added.

The Iraqi armed forces has yet to comment on the allegations.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Fallujah General Hospital said that 14 civilians had been killed and 16 injured in recent army shelling of the Karmah region.

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The use of explosive-laden barrels, which are much cheaper than missiles but inflict similar levels of destruction, have been widely reported in Syria, where regime forces are said to have used them against opposition-held areas.

According to Syrian opposition groups, the barrel bombs - usually filled with TNT, oil and metal shrapnel - have killed hundreds of people, especially in the countryside outside Damascus and Aleppo.

Since last December, the Iraqi army has waged a major offensive in the Sunni-majority Anbar province with the stated aim of flushing militants – who Baghdad claims are linked to al-Qaeda – out of the key cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.

Many local Sunni tribes opposed to Iraq's Shiite-dominated government continue to voice anger over the operation's mounting civilian death toll.

Since the offensive began, hundreds have been killed and injured in Fallujah and Ramadi, according to government officials.

In another sign of the reach of militant groups and the weakness of security forces, shifting parts of Anbar provincial capital Ramadi and all of Fallujah, both west of Baghdad, have been outside government hands for more than three months.

The crisis in the desert province of Anbar erupted in late December when security forces dismantled Iraq's main Sunni Arab anti-government protest camp just outside Ramadi.

It is 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.

Violence has killed more than 470 people in Iraq this month and upwards of 2,700 this year, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.

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