Baghdad: A wave of suicide bombings by Islamic State militants in western Iraq has killed 40 soldiers amid waning efforts by security forces to retake territory from the Sunni extremist group, a senior Iraqi commander said on Monday.
The attacks, which occurred yesterday in the town of Sijir, 70 kilometers (43 miles) west of Baghdad, dealt a heavy blow to government efforts to rein in the militants whose rampage has seized much of the country's north and west this summer — even as Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters are starting to get training by Iraq's Western allies in the battle against the Islamic State group.
In addition to the 40 troops killed in the suicide bombings, 68 Iraqi soldiers were apparently captured by the Islamic State group in Sijir and have likely been taken to the nearby city of Fallujah, said Gen. Rasheed Fleih. There has been no communication with any of the soldiers since their capture yesterday, Fleih said.
Yesterday, the militants launched a massive wave of attacks on Iraqi troops in Sijir, involving several suicide bombings and sparking clashes, said a security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. After the attacks, the Iraqi military withdrew 700 more troops stationed in the area, he added.
Following their battlefield successes in both Iraq and neighboring Syria, fighters with the Islamic State group, among them many Iraqi nationals, re-entered Iraq through the country's western Anbar province, engaging in fierce battles with the Iraqi military.
In this Sunni-majority territory, the group quickly capitalized on long-standing grievances against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, earning support from local populations. Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, backed by US airstrikes, were able to retake the strategic Mosul Dam and several small towns since airstrikes began.
However, serious challenges remain, since many of the Islamic State fighters have taken refuge in busy cities with high civilian populations, such as Fallujah and Mosul.
In northern Iraq, Kurdish fighters battling the Sunni militant group have begun receiving training from Western allies, including the United States, as they seek to beef up their capabilities, a top Kurdish security official said today.
Helgurd Hikmet, general director of the ministry overseeing Kurdish military forces known as peshmerga, said that France, Italy and Germany are also among countries providing training to help Kurdish forces use new machine guns, mortars, rockets and demining robots they have received.