Iraqi forces push to retake area north of Baghdad as ISIL kills 21

Suicide bombers disguised in army uniform struck at dawn at the military headquarters in the city of Haditha, killing eight troops, including an army commander, while separate attacks elsewhere killed 13 people and injured scores.

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BAGHDAD // Backed by paramilitary forces and aerial support, Iraqi troops on Tuesday launched a new push to retake a key area north of Baghdad, and dislodge ISIL militants from there.

The operation came as a group of suicide bombers targeted a military headquarters in Haditha in western Iraq, killing eight officers on Tuesday. ISIL later claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the joint operations command, the new offensive began at dawn in an agricultural area northwest of the city of Samarra, 95 kilometres north of Baghdad, with the aim of cutting ISIL supply lines and to tighten the grip around the northern city of Mosul held by the extremists.

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

Controlling the Jazerat Samarra area will not only restrict ISIL’s 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 counterterrorism forces.

Mr Al Numan said 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 ISIL 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, 240km northwest of Baghdad, killing eight troops, including a local army commander, councilman Khalid Salman said.

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

ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, but said it was carried out by two bombers, who were identified as Syrians. Also on Tuesday, separate attacks in and around Baghdad killed at least 13 people and wounded 31 others.

In one attack, militants broke into the house of a solider in the town of Youssifiyah, 20km south of Baghdad, 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, 50km north of Baghdad, a bomb struck a Shiite militia patrol, killing two and wounding four. Eight civilians were killed and 26 others wounded in separate bombs attacks against commercial areas in Baghdad on Tuesday, police said.

ISIL 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 ISIL last year.

Iraqi ground offensives – despite heavy backing from US-led coalition air strikes – have been slow in scoring key victories against ISIL. A campaign to retake Mosul has long been believed to be imminent but has not taken off the ground yet.

* Associated Press

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