Update Jan. 4, 2013, 3:20 p.m.
Iraqi tribes have joined government forces in battling al Qaeda militants, who seized control of much of the western cities Fallujah and Ramadi Friday.
The war in neighboring Syria has helped boost al Qaeda among disenfranchised Sunnis, who have accused Nouri al-Maliki’s government of alienation and hostility, including a recent arrest of a prominent Sunni, USA Today reports.
The sectarian violence between the Shiite-led government and minority Sunnis is the worst Iraq has suffered since American troops left the country in 2011. “The situation is very bad,” said a former governor of the Anbar region, and also confirmed that al Qaeda had taken control.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement in response to the fighting, noting that the U.S. is working with the Iraqi government to support the Iraqi Security Forces, tribal leaders fighting in conjunction with them, and “efforts to defeat our common enemy.”