Baghdad: At least 61 members of the Islamic State (IS) militant group were killed in US-led airstrikes and clashes with Iraqi security forces in Iraq on Saturday, while security forces freed a small town as they are advancing to recapture a major city in Anbar province from the IS, security sources said.
In northern Iraq, international coalition aircraft pounded in the morning IS redoubts at Ashiq village near the IS-held city of Tal Afar, which is located some 70 km west of Nineveh`s provincial capital Mosul, leaving at least 11 IS militants dead and eight others wounded, a Kurdish security source told Xinhua news agency.
US-led coalition warplanes also attacked IS positions at a village near the militant-seized town of Qaiyara, some 50 km south of Mosul, destroying four IS vehicles and killing 16 militants, the source said.
In Salahudin province, Iraqi security forces and allied militias repelled an attack by IS militants on Allas oilfield in Himreen area in the eastern part of the province after fierce clashes with the militants who started their overnight attack with a car bombing and heavy machine guns, a provincial security source told Xinhua.
The IS ended their attack in the morning after they failed to gain a foothold at the oilfield, leaving two of their vehicles destroyed and at least three of their militants dead and three others wounded, the source added.
Also in the province, security forces and militias known as Hashd Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) clashed with IS militants in the partially IS-held oil refinery of Baiji, some 200 km north of Iraq`s capital Baghdad, the source said.
The battle in Baiji refinery came after security forces managed to enter Iraq`s largest oil refinery late on Thursday and broke the siege of more than 300 security personnel who have been surrounded by IS militants inside the refinery after the extremist militants gained ground there earlier in the month.
The fall of most of the refinery into the hands of IS militants and the siege of troops, made the Iraqi government on Tuesday to dispatch reinforcement troops, backed by tanks and armoured vehicles, to retake full control of the huge oil refinery and the nearby town of Baiji.
In Anbar province, US-led coalition aircraft carried out an airstrike on IS positions near the town of Khaldiyah, some 80 km west of Baghdad, leaving at least six IS militants dead and eight others wounded, a provincial security source told Xinhua.
Also in Anbar province, Iraqi security forces and allied Sunni tribal fighters repelled an attack by suicide car bombs and dozens of IS militants from three directions on the city of Haditha, some 200 km northwest of Baghdad, after heavy clashes, leaving 25 IS militants dead, the source said.
Earlier in the day, Iraqi security forces and allied militias retook control of the small town of Huseibah al-Sharqiyah, 10 km east of provincial capital Ramadi, after fierce clashes with the IS militants who seized the town late Thursday.
The troops backed by thousands of Popular Mobilisation members started their advance earlier in the day toward the town from their bases in Habbaniyah airbase and the nearby town of Khaldiyah, some 80 km west of Iraq`s capital Baghdad.
Huseibah al-Sharqiyah is a town with a cluster of houses and local government buildings located on the main road between the town of Khaldiyah and Ramadi.
The operation to liberate the town is part of a major counter-offensive designed to free Ramadi, some 110 km west of Baghdad, which fell to the hands of the IS militants after deadly battles last week.
After Huseibah, the troops moved to capture the nearby area of Juwieba, as they are advancing toward their main target of Ramadi city, the source added.
After the fall of Ramadi late Sunday, thousands of security forces and allied Shia militias backed by columns of armoured vehicles and tanks moved from Baghdad and other Iraqi provinces to converge at Habbaniyah huge military base.
The rapid retreat of security forces and allied Sunni militias from Ramadi pushed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, also the commander-in-chief of Iraqi armed forces, to order the mainly Shia militias of Hashd Shaabi to prepare to participate in battles against IS militants in Anbar, ignoring US concerns that the presence of Shia militias could spark sectarian strife.
The IS group has seized most of Anbar province and tried to advance toward Baghdad during the past few months, but several counter-attacks by security forces and Shia militias have pushed them back.