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Iraqi Forces Launch Push to Retake Area North of Baghdad

  • Associated Press

FILE - Iraqi security forces take combat position at the front-line with Islamic State group militants as Iraqi Army and allied Sunni volunteer tribal fighters supported by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes are tightened the siege of Ramadi, Iraq, Nov. 30, 2015.

FILE - Iraqi security forces take combat position at the front-line with Islamic State group militants as Iraqi Army and allied Sunni volunteer tribal fighters supported by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes are tightened the siege of Ramadi, Iraq, Nov. 30, 2015.

Backed by paramilitary forces and aerial support, Iraqi troops on Tuesday launched a new push to retake a key area north of the capital, Baghdad, and dislodge Islamic State in Iraq (IS) militants from there, officials said.

The operation came as a group of suicide bombers targeted a military headquarters in western Iraq, killing eight officers on Tuesday. No one immediately claimed responsibility for that attack.

According to a statement by the Joint Operations Command, the "new offensive" began at dawn in a swath agricultural area northwest of the city of Samarra, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad, with the aim to cut IS supply lines and to tighten the grip around the IS-held northern city of Mosul.

The command says paramilitary forces, mostly Shiite militias, and the Iraqi air force were backing the push on the area, called Jazerat Samarra. The statement did not say if the US-led international coalition was involved in the operation.

Controlling the Jazerat Samarra area will not only restrict the IS militants' movements between the three provinces in the region, but will also be essential for future operations to retake parts of Anbar province and Mosul, said Sabah al-Numan, the spokesman of the counter-terrorism forces.

Al-Numan told The Associated Press that two vehicles loaded with militants were bombed on Tuesday, and that the security forces managed to hit a would-be suicide car bomber before he reached his target.

The offensive comes on the heels of two massive bombings in as many days by IS in the area — in the town of Muqdadiyah and in Baghdad — that killed at least 110 people.

Shiite lawmaker and spokesman for the paramilitary forces, Ahmed al-Asadi, said the offensive "is in retaliation for the blood of our martyrs and to annihilate the terrorist gangs that have wreaked havoc."

Meanwhile, four suicide bombers disguised in army uniform struck at dawn at the military headquarters in the city of Haditha, 240 kilometers (150 miles) northwest of Baghdad, killing eight troops, including a local army commander, councilman Khalid Salman told the AP.

One of the bombers first attacked the gate of the building, then the others blew up themselves up when people gathered at the scene to help the victims. Salman said eight soldiers were also wounded in the attack.

Also on Tuesday, separate attacks in and around Baghdad killed at least 13 people and wounded 31 others, police and health officials said.

In one attack, militants broke into the house of a solider in the town of Youssifiyah, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the Iraqi capital, killing his wife and two children, aged seven and five years old, a police officer said. The solider was critically wounded, he added.

In the town of Tarmiyah, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Baghdad, a bomb struck a Shiite militia patrol, killing two and wounding four, the same police officer said. And eight civilians were killed and 26 others wounded in separate bombs attacks against commercial areas in Baghdad on Tuesday, the police said.

Medical officials confirmed causality fingers. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

IS still controls much of northern and western Iraq, but has been driven back in recent months in some areas, such as the cities of Ramadi and Tikrit. The government last month declared the western city of Ramadi, the Anbar provincial capital, "fully liberated" after it had been captured by IS last year.

Iraqi ground offensives — despite heavy backing from US-led coalition airstrikes — have been slow in scoring key victories against IS. A campaign to retake Mosul, the main city held by IS in Iraq, has long been believed to be imminent but has not taken off the ground yet.

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