55 killed in clashes with IS militants in Iraq

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Baghdad, March 24 (IANS) Separate clashes on Tuesday between Iraqi forces and Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq’s western province of Anbar left a total of 55 people dead and 71 wounded, security and medical sources said.

In the early hours of the day, security forces backed by allied Shia and Sunni militias and covered by Iraqi and US-led aircraft retook control of the areas of Albu Shihab and Albu Souda, west of the IS-held city of Fallujah, some 50 km west of Iraq’s capital Baghdad, after fierce clashes with the extremist militants, a provincial security source told Xinhua news agency on condition of anonymity.

The troops seized the two areas as part of their offensive launched against the IS positions northwest of Fallujah, the source said, adding that at least 18 IS militants were killed and 12 others wounded in the battles.

Separately, heavy clashes erupted in the early morning hours when IS militants carried out an attack on the positions of the security forces south of Fallujah, leaving seven IS militants dead and 13 others wounded, while eight security personnel were killed and 12 injured, a security source told Xinhua.

Meanwhile, a suicide bomber blew up his explosives-laden car at the entrance of a military base near the highway close to Fallujah.

It was immediately followed by an attack by dozens of IS militants who clashed with security personnel and seized the base after the troops withdrew from their positions, leaving seven IS militants dead and 11 others wounded, the source said without giving further details about the casualties among the troops.

Also near Fallujah, IS militants attacked the town of Ameriyat al-Fallujah, some 40 km west of Baghdad, from the south and the east sides, but the security forces and the Sunni residents of the town fought back the attackers, another security source told Xinhua, adding that at least six IS militants were killed and seven others wounded.

A medical source from the town’s hospital told Xinhua that they have received five bodies of security personnel killed in the battles and admitted nine others for treatment from wounds.

In addition, army artillery and mortars pounded the IS positions in Fallujah, leaving four people dead and seven others wounded, a medical source from the city hospital said.

For months, Anbar province has been the scene of fierce clashes between the IS militants and the security forces, who have gained support from some of the local Sunni tribes who rejected the presence of the extremist IS group.

The IS group has seized parts of Iraq’s largest province Anbar and tried to advance toward Baghdad, but several counter-attacks by security forces and Shia militias have pushed them back.

The security situation in Iraq drastically deteriorated since June 10 last year, when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and the IS.