At least 73 people have been killed in the the western Iraqi cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, as the Iraqi government stepped up air strikes and artillery fire against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) armed group, sources told Al Jazeera.
An air strike on a sports field in Ramadi shortly after midnight on Sunday killed at least 50 people and left more than 30 people injured. At least 23 people were killed and around 40 wounded after shelling north of Fallujah.
Hospital officials said most of those killed were young men and described them as civilians, a claim disputed by Iraqi security officials, who said those targeted were members of ISIL. .
Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said sources in the city had accused the Iraqi government of using barrel bombs .
“In this latest attack we’re told that young men had gathered after breaking the day’s fast to play traditional games including soccer,” Arraf said.
“We’re also told by local sources that they were joined by members of ISIL, trying to recruit some of them, and that’s when they air strikes happened.”
The Iraqi army’s Anbar Operations Command said they launched air strikes in the city, aimed at what they called an ISIL gathering.
In Fallujah, which is also held by ISIL, 23 people including five women and seven children, were killed after Iraqi government forces shelled areas in the north of the city, hospital sources told Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, seven soldiers and five suicide bombers were killed, when ISIL launched an attack against an Iraqi Quick Reaction Force base protecting a dam northeast of Fallujah.
Security sources in Anbar province told Al Jazeera that five suicide car bombs attacked the Nadhem al-Taqsim base 15-km northeast of Fallujah on Sunday afternoon.
Four of the vehicles were reportedly destroyed by the security forces, before they were detonated, while the fifth managed to detonate killing the seven soldiers.
Another suicide attack was also reportedly carried out on the Haditha dam, 160-km west of Ramadi, killing at least two soldiers and injuring three others, according to Iraqi Army general Ali Dabu’un.
Claims of abuse
The deaths came as more than 30 members of the government-allied Popular Mobilisation Forces died in clashes with ISIL fighters near the city.
The spokesman for the coalition said fighting near the city was ongoing, and would pave the way for its eventual recapture.
The coalition of mainly Shia militias was formed in response to an ISIL offensive in the summer of 2014 that saw much of Anbar province fall to the armed group.
Both the militias and the Iraqi government have been condemned by human rights groups for abuses against Sunni Arab civilians , who constitute the majority of the population in the province.
Amnesty International has accused the Iraqi government of using ” indiscriminate shelling to regain control over Fallujah and parts of Ramadi from ISIL,” further accusing it of killing civilians and causing damage to civilian infrastructure.