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Iraqi prime minister calls on people in western city of Fallujah to 'expel' al-Qaida fighters

  • 2b50cfaeb71c0d00480f6a7067004c91.jpg

    Civilians leave their home after clashes between the Iraqi army and al-Qaeda fighters in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. Lt. Gen. Rasheed Fleih, a senior Iraqi military commander said it will take a few days to fully dislodge al-Qaida-linked fighters from Fallujah and Ramadi. (AP Photo)The Associated Press

  • 3a9a62c2b8111100480f6a706700f047.jpg

    Gunmen patrol after clashes with Iraqi security forces in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. Lt. Gen. Rasheed Fleih, who leads the Anbar Military Command, told the state television Sunday that "two to three days" are needed to push the militants out of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. (AP Photo)The Associated Press

  • dd6457e5b80d1100480f6a706700d99c.jpg

    A burned army truck looks over a hill as gunmen guard during clashes with Iraqi security forces on the outskirts of Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. Lt. Gen. Rasheed Fleih, who leads the Anbar Military Command, told the state television Sunday that "two to three days" are needed to push the militants out of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. (AP Photo)The Associated Press

  • 50c902a8b80f1100480f6a706700f23e.jpg

    Gunmen move from house to house after clashes with Iraqi security forces in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. Lt. Gen. Rasheed Fleih, who leads the Anbar Military Command, told the state television Sunday that "two to three days" are needed to push the militants out of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. (AP Photo)The Associated Press

  • 5a89bd2bb8131100480f6a706700bcc9.jpg

    A burned army truck looks over a hill as a gunman guards after clashes with Iraqi security forces on the outskirts of Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. Lt. Gen. Rasheed Fleih, who leads the Anbar Military Command, told the state television Sunday that "two to three days" are needed to push the militants out of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. (AP Photo)The Associated Press

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.