BAGHDAD — Tribal leaders in the besieged city of Fallujah warned al-Qaida-linked fighters to leave to avoid a military showdown, echoing a call by Iraq's prime minister Wednesday that they give up their fight as the government pushes to regain control of mainly Sunni areas west of Baghdad.
The warning came as gunmen attacked an Iraqi army barracks in a Sunni area north of Baghdad, killing 12 soldiers. Seven soldiers were wounded in the assault in Diyala province, authorities said.
The United Nations and the Red Cross, meanwhile, said Fallujah and nearby areas are facing mounting humanitarian concerns as food and water supplies start to run out.
Sectarian tensions have been on the rise for months in Sunni-dominated Anbar province as minority Sunnis protest what they perceive as discrimination and random arrests by the Shiite-led government. Violence spiked after the Dec. 28 arrest of a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges and the government's dismantling of a year-old antigovernment Sunni protest camp in the provincial capital of Ramadi.
Last week, al-Qaida-linked gunmen seized control of Ramadi and nearby Fallujah, cities that were among the bloodiest battlefields for U.S. forces during the Iraq War.
The United States and Iran have offered material help for the Iraqi government but say they won't send in troops.
Speaking in his weekly television address, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hinted of a possible pardon for supporters of al-Qaida's local branch, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, if they abandon the fight.
In exchange, he promised that his government will "open a new page to settle their cases so that they won't be fuel for the war that is led by al-Qaida."