BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's prime minister is urging residents and tribes of Fallujah to "expel" al-Qaida militants from this western city to avoid an all-out battle.

Nouri al-Maliki's message, broadcast on Monday over state TV, came as dozens of families flee Fallujah in fear of major fighting.

Al-Maliki also urged Iraqi troops to avoid targeting Fallujah's residential areas.

Fallujah and the provincial capital of Ramadi in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province were overrun by al-Qaida fighters last week.

Iraqi troops have since been trying to dislodge militants from the group, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, from the two cities.

Al-Maliki did not say how he expects Fallujah residents to push out militants and it was not clear if his remarks reflect an imminent military operation to retake the city.

 

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