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Battles Intensify Near Kirkuk; Twin Blasts Rock Baghdad


Smoke billows in the background as Kurdish Peshmerga fighters take positions on the side of a road in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, Jan. 30, 2015.

Fierce fighting erupted Friday between Islamic State militants and Kurdish Peshmerga forces near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. Officials say a senior Kurdish commander and at least eight of his fighters were killed. Meanwhile, at least 27 people were killed in back-to back bomb blasts in Baghdad.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters exchanged volleys of automatic rifle fire with Islamic State militants Friday, south of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. The surprise Islamic State attack bore witness to the group's resilience, despite a series of setbacks in both Iraq and Syria.

Islamic State militants also detonated a car-bomb inside Kirkuk in a failed attempt to break into a prison by breaching the walls of the city's police headquarters.

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Meanwhile, the U.S. military says a coalition airstrike killed an Islamic State chemical weapons expert last week near the Iraqi city of Mosul.

The U.S. Central Command, in a statement Friday, identified the target as Abu Malik. It said Malik had been a chemical weapons engineer under the rule of Saddam Hussein, before joining al-Qaida in Iraq in 2005.

The statement came hours after Iraqi Kurdish forces withstood and repelled a major attack by IS fighters in Kirkuk province.

A reporter for VOA Kurdish in Kirkuk said IS militants from several fronts attacked Peshmerga forces west and southwest of the city beginning late Thursday. The reporter said the militants were able to advance and control several areas, before many Peshmerga, police and security forces fought to recapture some of the areas on Friday.

Bab al-Sharqi, Iraq
Bab al-Sharqi, Iraq

In the Iraqi capital Baghdad, workers swept chunks of concrete and broken glass after two back-to-back explosions rocked a clothing market in the Bab al Sharqi district of the city. Iraqi security forces closed the nearby Jumhouriya Bridge to prevent militants from fleeing.

An eyewitness standing near the devastated market told journalists that the blasts caused numerous casualties.

He says the twin blasts resulted in many victims, most of them innocent civilians, because Friday is a holiday and large crowds of people are out shopping.

In a Friday sermon in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, a top cleric representing Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani indicated that the government was prepared to investigate the killings of innocent civilians by volunteer Shi'ite militiamen and to punish those responsible for committing such crimes.

In the Kurdish capital of Irbil Friday, regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told an interviewer that military operations to liberate Iraq's second largest city of Mosul would probably take place “next fall.” U.S. military officials indicated earlier this year that attempts to recapture the city probably would not take place until spring or summer.