Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters stormed a town in Iraq's western Anbar province on Saturday, killing at least 19 policemen and trapping others inside their headquarters, in the latest attack in the desert region where the armed group controls large amounts of territory, officials said.
ISIL seized the town of Al-Wafa, about 20 miles west of Anbar's capital Ramadi, on Saturday after starting its assault early on Friday. The group now controls three major towns to the west of Ramadi, including Hit and Kubaisa.
The surprise Saturday attack also drew fresh attention to the Iraqi government's struggle to arm Sunni tribes in western Iraq who are fighting ISIL, a Sunni insurgency that has managed to earn the support of many minority Iraqi Sunnis.
"Police forces have been fighting Islamic State fighters since Friday, but lack of ammunition forced it to retreat and losing the town. I'm frustrated because we were left alone without support," said Hussain Kassar, Al-Wafa's mayor.
Police forces backed by few government-paid Sunni tribal fighters tried to prevent ISIL from crossing the sand barrier surrounding the town, but were overwhelmed when sleeper cells from inside open fired on them, the mayor and a police officer said.
Police forces and the pro-government Sunni fighters were forced to retreat to a nearby police-brigade headquarters bordering the town.
"We are trapped inside the police 18th brigade. Islamic State managed to surround us today. If no government forces were sent to help us then we will be exterminated," the mayor, who was with the police forces that withdrew from Al-Wafa, said by telephone.
Elsewhere in western Anbar, ISIL fighters executed at least 21 Sunni tribal fighters on Friday after capturing them near the town of Al-Baghdadi on Wednesday, local officials and tribesmen said Saturday. The group has besieged Al-Baghdadi, also to the west of Ramadi, since October.
The bodies had bullet wounds to the head and chest and were found dumped inside an orchard near Kubaisa.
ISIL captured swathes of western and northern Iraq, including the north's biggest city, Mosul, in June. The group now holds territory from western Anbar and Nineveh provinces that extends across the border into Syria.
Al Jazeera and Reuters