A new wave of bombings has killed at least 19 people in Baghdad as Iraqi security forces prepared for a major operation to retake two western cities held by al-Qaida-linked militants.
The deadliest attack took place in northern Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite Shaab district where two car bombs exploded Sunday, killing at least nine people and wounding 25.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings but Sunni Muslim insurgents have stepped up attacks on Iraqi security forces and supporters of the Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The bombings come as Iraqi troops and allied tribesmen are attempting to push Islamist fighters of al-Qaida's local branch, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, from the key cities of Ramadi and Fallujah in western Anbar province.
Iraqi officials said government forces launched an air strike on Ramadi Sunday, killing 25 militants.
Lt. Gen. Rasheed Fleih, who leads the Anbar Military Command, said it will take a few days to completely retake the two cities and that pro-government Sunni tribes are leading the fight.
"And after the tribes end their operations, the troops will start a wide-scale military operation, after a request from the provincial council and the governor, who have appealed to us to support the tribes and the security troops, to get fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State in Iraq and Levant out of Anbar province," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that the United States would provide assistance to Iraqi forces in their battle against the militants but that it was "their fight."
Kerry said Washington was "very, very concerned" about the resurgence of ISIL but that it was not contemplating any return of U.S. ground troops, after their withdrawal in December 2011.
Residents say it has been quiet since late Saturday in Fallujah, where militants still control the center of the city.
Al-Qaida militants largely took both cities over last week and have been fending off incursions by government forces there since.
Both Ramadi and Fallujah were insurgent strongholds in the years after 2003, and Fallujah was the target of two major assaults in which U.S. forces saw some of their heaviest fighting since the Vietnam War.
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