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'This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis': Kerry says US will not send troops to help Iraq fight al Qaeda

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Mourners and Sunni gunmen chant slogans against Iraq's Shiite-led government during the funeral of a man killed when clashes erupted between al Qaeda gunmen and Iraqi army soldiers on Friday in Fallujah.

The United States will help Iraq fight an al Qaeda-linked group that seized the city of Fallujah in the west of the country — but will not send American troops to do so, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday.

"We will stand with the government of Iraq and with others who will push back against their efforts to destabilize," Kerry told journalists as he left Jerusalem for Jordan and Saudi Arabia. "We are going to do everything that is possible,” Kerry said.

He added, “This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis ... We are not contemplating returning."

The Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), which took control of Fallujah and Ramadi over last week, is one of the strongest rebel groups in Syria and has imposed a strict version of Islamic law in territories it holds.

U.S. intelligence officials said Friday the situation in western Iraq was "extremely dire" after the radical forces raised their flag in the town of Fallujah -- site of two of the bloodiest battles during the Iraq war -- and gained control of the city.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Iraqi government forces killed 25 of the Islamist militants in Ramadi by launching an air strike, according to local officials.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A vehicle set on fire by tribesmen during the clashes with Iraqi security forces on Jan. 5 in Anbar, Iraq — the province where Falluja and Ramadi are situated near the border of Syria.

ISIL militants remained strong in Falluja though, as tribesmen in the area have joined the uprising against the government.

Iraqi government officials and tribal leaders are reluctant to send the army into Fallujah due to the ISIL's reputation for assassinations and bombings.

Kerry admitted that the U.S. was "very, very concerned" by the fighting, and called ISIL "the most dangerous players in that region."

One Iraqi tribal leader said fighting ISIL would agitate the violence and Falih Eisa, a member of an Iraqi provincial council, said the strategy was figuring out how to start "negotiating outside the city with the tribes to decide how to enter the city without allowing the army to be involved."

“We will help them in their fight, but this fight, in the end, they will have to win and I am confident they can,” Kerry said Sunday.

Elsewhere in Iraq on Sunday, at least 19 people were killed when several car and roadside bombs exploded in commercial areas of Baghdad, the capital.

A group did not immediately come forward to claim responsibility for the attacks, but the deadliest assault happened in northern Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Shaab, where two bombs killed at least nine and injured 25.

In a separate incident, gunmen set up a fake check point on and killed six drivers a main road leading to Baghdad, police said. 

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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Al Qaeda fighters take over parts of two Iraq cities