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IS Militants Kill 10 Iraqi Militiamen in Most Lethal Attack in Months


FILE - A convoy of Iraqi forces is seen moving through the Samarra desert, on the border between Anbar and Salahuddin provinces, Iraq, March 9, 2016.

Ten Iraqi Shi'ite "Hushd" militiamen were killed early Saturday in an Islamic State (IS) attack on their positions in Salahuddin province. The attack comes as the country's prime minister-designate prepares to present his new government to parliament this coming week.

Hushd militiamen traded gunfire with IS attackers overnight in Salahuddin province, when the 10 dead militiamen were killed and a number of them wounded, according to a statement by the Iraqi government. It was the first major IS attack on Hushd militiamen or government forces in a number of months.

Prime Minister-designate Mustapha al Kadhimi said in a statement Saturday the IS attack was "a desperate attempt [by IS] to exploit the country's political disagreements," as he prepares to assemble his new government this coming week. He indicated the best response would be to "approve his new government quickly."

The spokesman for Iraq's joint military operations command, Gen. Tahsin Khafaji, told Arab media the country's military forces have launched a number of air and ground attacks on IS positions in several parts of the country and will launch further attacks in the future.

He said terrorist fighters are under serious pressure from government forces in many places, including Salahuddin, Diyala and Samarra, and IS terrorists have been reduced to hideouts in mostly unpopulated areas.

A Hushd militia spokesman, Mushtaq al Hassani, told Iraqi state TV that his forces were "prepared to make sacrifices" to destroy the IS militants, adding that expected "more attacks to be launched in the near future to go after IS sleeper cells."

Iraqi military analyst Fadel Abou Ragheef said on Iraqi TV that government forces "have launched more than 90 pre-emptive attacks on IS terrorists during the past several months," and that they have "destroyed at least 35 terrorist cells."

The U.S. declared the group's alleged new leader, Amir Mohammed Sa'id Abdal Rahman al Mawla, as a "specially designated global terrorist" in March.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo proposed last month that Washington and Baghdad "hold a Strategic Dialogue in June" to discuss the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. The U.S. and U.S.-coalition forces have withdrawn from a number of strategic bases since March due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Last week, IS claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that wounded four people outside an intelligence office in the northern Iraqi province of Kirkuk.

Iraq declared victory over IS in late 2017 after a three-year military campaign, supported by U.S.-led coalition forces.

IS once controlled about one-third of Iraq and large swaths of neighboring Syria. Saturday's attack is raising concerns it could be making a comeback as authorities try to address a political and economic crisis, as well as contain the spread of the coronavirus.