Monday 22 January 2018

Islamic State militants kill 11 in clash with Iraqi government forces

Mourners carry the coffin of a fighter from the Iraqi Shi'ite Badr Organization, who was killed in clashes with Islamic State militants in Baiji, during a funeral in Najaf, south of Baghdad
Mourners carry the coffin of a fighter from the Iraqi Shi'ite Badr Organization, who was killed in clashes with Islamic State militants in Baiji, during a funeral in Najaf, south of Baghdad

Michael Georgy

Islamic State militants attacked government forces and their Shi'ite militia allies yesterday, killing 11 near the city of Baiji as part of the battle for control of Iraq's biggest refinery, army and police sources said.

Four suicide bombers in vehicles packed with explosives hit security forces and the local headquarters of the Shi'ite militias in the area of al-Hijjaj, 10 km to the south of Baiji town, near the refinery, sources at the nearby Tikrit security operations command said.

Iraqi government forces and powerful Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias face Islamic State on several fronts in Iraq, a major oil producer and OPEC member.

They include areas around Baiji refinery, north of Baghdad, and the city of Ramadi west of the capital, seized last month by Islamic State, the ultra-hardline Sunni group that poses the biggest threat to Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Ramadi is the provincial capital of Anbar Province, Iraq's Sunni heartland.

Last Wednesday, US President Barack Obama ordered the deployment of 450 more US troops to Anbar to advise and assist fragile Iraqi forces being built up to try to retake territory lost to Islamic State.

Iraq has been struggling to find a formula for stability since the last US troops withdrew in 2011, with the battle against Islamic State and widespread sectarian blood-letting severely hampering efforts to rebuild the economy. Islamic State's drive, its hardline views and ambitions to create a 'caliphate' where opponents are executed or beheaded, have exacerbated Iraq's sectarian conflict.

In eastern Iraq, tensions between Kurdish and Shi'ite forces ran high yesterday for a second consecutive day. The two sides have in the past joined forces against Islamic State but competition for territory can sometimes undermine cooperation.

Trouble erupted when Kurdish peshmerga fighters began digging a trench to separate two towns in Diyala province.

Yesterday, clashes flared anew, police sources said, adding that four Shi'ite militiamen and two Kurdish peshmerga fighters had been wounded.

The Iraqi army depends heavily on support from the umbrella Shi'ite militia group Popular Mobilisation Front in the face of advances from Islamic State.

Meanwhile, in Yemen, nine people were killed when Saudi-led coalition warplanes bombed a district in the capital Sanaa inhabited by relatives of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, residents and medics said.

The air raid, which also wounded at least 60 people, came ahead of planned UN-sponsored talks in Geneva aimed at ending Yemen's civil war that has drawn in regional powers, including the world's top oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

Residents said the warplanes had targeted vacant houses in Bait Me'yad, a district near the heart of Sanaa that is home to a number of relatives of Saleh, whose loyalists are allied with Houthi forces, the dominant armed faction in the conflict.

Mohammed Yahya, an eyewitness, said two missiles struck two Saleh relatives' houses while the third crashed in the middle of the neighbourhood, causing several casualties.

Another witness said three explosions shook the neighbourhood. "We felt as if the house was going to collapse over our heads," said the man, identified as Ali Ahmed. "We ran, with the children, and hid under the stairwell. It was terrifying."

Medical sources said nine people who had suffered severe injuries died on arrival at hospital while 60 others were under care at three hospitals in the capital.

The Houthi-controlled Saba news agency said most of the victims were women and children.

In the southern port of Aden, residents said a dozen people were killed or wounded by Houthi shells fired into districts in the north of the city.

Sunday Independent

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