RAMADI, Iraq, Dec 1 (Reuters) – Iraqi militants attacked a U.S. base and a local government building with mortar rounds and rockets in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on Thursday, before holding ground on several central streets, residents said.
Around 400 heavily armed, masked men were patrolling the main thoroughfares of the city, long a focus of guerrilla activity, and had set up checkpoints at major entrance and exit points, residents from across Ramadi told Reuters.
Leaflets were distributed and posted on walls declaring that al Qaeda in Iraq, the group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was taking over the city.
“They’ve taken control of all the main streets and other sections of Ramadi,” a reporter there for Reuters said. “I’ve seen about 400 armed men controlling streets, some of which were controlled by Americans before,” he said.
The assault began early on Thursday with a sustained mortar and rocket attack on a U.S. base in the city centre and on a nearby provincial governor’s building. Ramadi is the capital of Anbar province, a heartland of the insurgency.
“Al Qaeda in Iraq is taking control of Ramadi,” one of the leaflets read. “Its followers will burn the Americans and will drive them back to their homes by force. Iraq will be a graveyard for the Americans and its allies.”
The U.S. military did not immediately respond to a request for information about the situation.
Residents said there was no presence of U.S. forces in the streets. The U.S. military has a fortified garrison in Ramadi, and usually ventures out to conduct patrols and other operations. Iraqi forces also have bases there.
Ramadi has long been a focal point of militant activity in Iraq. After U.S. forces overran Falluja in a massive offensive last November, many insurgents apparently fled west to Ramadi, which is about 60 km (40 miles) beyond Falluja.
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