Iraqi troops battle to retake northern town from militants
Firefighters extinguish fire from Baghdad's historic Shorjah market, which dates to the Abbassid era over 700 years ago, after it was hit by two bomb blasts on February 13, 2014 killing at least two people and wounding at least 11. [AFP]
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Iraqi troops backed by helicopter gunships fought on Saturday to retake full control of a northern town from militants who overran parts of it earlier this week, Reuters reported the mayor and other local officials as saying.
Talib Mohammad, the mayor of Sulaiman Pek, 160 km (100 miles) north of Baghdad, said the army had met fierce resistance in some parts of the town, after gaining some ground on Friday.
“Snipers and roadside bombs are preventing the army from totally controlling the town,” he said.
He added: “A police captain was killed by a sniper this morning while he was trying to evacuate his family.”
Militants raised the black flag of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) - a Sunni group also fighting in neighboring Syria - over parts of Sulaiman Pek on Thursday.
An army captain in Sulaiman Pek said snipers were hindering bomb disposal teams faced with dozens of explosive devices.
“Our job is not easy, it’s a guerrilla war,” said Captain Falah Abdul-Ameer. “Snipers are a big issue now. We can’t work out their exact location, they shoot and change places.”
Bombings and clashes in central Iraq have killed seven members of the security forces and wounded eight, officials said according to the Associated Press.
Two roadside bombs targeted joint army and police patrols on Saturday in the town of Jurf al-Sakhar, prompting clashes in which artillery was used to support security forces, two police officers said, clarifying that four policemen and three soldiers were killed.
During the attacks, 16 other militants were killed and 17 arrested, while seven houses used by militants to stock weapons were demolished, the police officers added.
The town, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Baghdad, is a former insurgent stronghold that has in the past seen attacks on security forces and nearby Shiite areas.
The causalities were confirmed by a medical official who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to release information.
Maliki visits Anbar
Also on Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced over $83 million in construction funds and training for allied tribal militia during a visit to Ramadi, where militants have held territory for weeks.
It was Maliki’s first announced trip to Anbar province since jihadist militants and anti-government tribesmen seized control of parts of Ramadi and all of Fallujah to its east at the start of the year, in a major setback for his government.
The premier met with provincial officials and leaders of powerful local tribes, Maliki’s spokesman Ali Mussawi told Agence France-Presse.
“We came to confirm our support to our people and our tribes in Anbar,” Mussawi quoted Maliki as saying in a speech.
He also announced 100 billion dinars (around $83 million) in construction funds for Anbar province, and said that security forces would provide training to pro-government tribal fighters, Mussawi said.
The takeovers in Anbar are the first time that anti-government forces have exercised such open control in major cities since the bloody insurgency that followed the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
The prospects of a quick resolution to the crisis seem slim, with Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani saying the strategy for retaking Fallujah is to surround it and wait for Sunni Arab gunmen to run short of weapons and equipment.
Iraq is facing its worst violence since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings that left tens of thousands dead.