Iraqi air force strikes ISIS cell that attacked army barracks

Lebanese fighters reported to be among nine militants killed in the operation

An Iraqi army helicopter fires at a target near Al Ayadieh village during an operation to retake the northern city of Tal Afar from ISIS in August 2017. AFP
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Iraq’s air force killed nine suspected ISIS fighters in retaliation for an attack on an Iraqi army barracks earlier this month, officials said on Sunday.

ISIS gunmen broke into the barracks in the mountainous Al Azim district, near the town of Baqubah, on January 21, killed a guard and shot dead 11 soldiers as they slept.

It was one of the boldest attacks by the militants in recent weeks and came amid a sharp rise in violence that stoked fears the group has been revitalised.

Yehia Rasool, the spokesman for Iraq’s commander in chief, said the joint military operations room and the air force identified the cell behind the attack as its members hid in Al Azim, a district in Diyala, a province north of Baghdad.

Three air strikes were launched that killed the nine militants, he said.

A security official told The Associated Press that four among the killed were Lebanese, from the northern city of Tripoli.

Lebanon’s Al Jadeed TV gave a higher death toll. It said that five Lebanese were killed in Iraq. One family member appealed in the broadcast to Lebanese authorities to help with the return of the bodies.

Tripoli is Lebanon’s poorest city and has been prone to violence. Militants inspired by ISIS launched attacks there against Lebanon’s army in 2014.

Iraqi anti-terrorism units inspected seven prisons holding ISIS militants on Sunday.

Militants attempted to free ISIS suspects from a prison in north-eastern Syria on January 20.

The attack on the prison in Hassakeh province was carried out by about 200 militants who were joined by rioting inmates. Dozens of people were killed and suspects escaped as fighting raged for more than a week.

On Sunday, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces announced the end of its sweep operations in the prison “by eliminating the last pockets in the northern dormitories where terrorists had been barricaded”.

The attack was carried out on the largest of a dozen detention centres in Syria that house militants. More than 3,000 suspected ISIS militants, including more than 600 minors, were held there. The Kurdish-led SDF said most of the prisoners and militants surrendered, and scores were killed.

ISIS was largely defeated in Iraq in 2017. The group was dealt a final blow in 2019 when it lost its last territory in south-east Syria during the US-led military campaign in co-operation with Syrian Kurdish-led forces.

But thousands of militants melted into the desert and have continued to wage attacks, frequently hitting security forces and the military with roadside bombs and firing on army convoys or checkpoints in both countries.

Updated: January 30, 2022, 7:14 PM