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Security forces fight insurgents in Iraq, repel attacks in Salahudin province

Fierce clashes between Iraqi security forces and Sunni militant groups continued in several Iraqi provinces on Thursday, as government troops repelled several militant attacks in Salahudin province, security sources said.

Security forces, with military air support, fought back an overnight militant offensive targeting the oil refinery of Baiji, killing dozens of militants, a provincial police source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

The troops repelled a separate militant attack in the area, including some who were linked to the al-Qaida offshoot, the Islamic State (IS), on the Camp Speicher military air base north of Tikrit that previously was used by the U.S. forces, leaving at least 25 militants dead, the source said.

The attack occurred overnight and continued to the early morning hours, the source said, adding that the militants pounded the military base with a heavy mortar barrage, damaging at least two helicopters parked in the base.

Also in the province, Sunni insurgents on Wednesday night attacked the town of Amerli near the city of Tuz-Khurmato, but were repelled by security forces and militiamen allied with the government, leaving at least 15 militants dead, the source said without giving further details about the casualties among the security forces or supporting militias.

Salahudin province is a Sunni-dominated province and its capital Tikrit, some 170 km north of Baghdad, is the hometown of former President Saddam Hussein.

On Tuesday, Iraqi security forces launched a major offensive on Tikrit trying to regain control of the area from Islamist militias. Militant groups took control of the city on June 11 when hundreds of gunmen entered the city during the advance of the Sunni Islamist militias.

Sunni militias along with the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant have stunned the world by capturing large swathes of territory both in Syria and Iraq, overrunning the latter's army and snatching up a large cache of weapons from military depots abandoned by Iraqi troops. Since then the insurgents have been battling security forces throughout Iraq, trying to wrest territories from government control.

Elsewhere in Iraq, three Kurdish security members, known as Peshmerga, were killed and 18 others were wounded during violent clashes in south and west of the city of Kirkuk, a Kurdish security source told Xinhua.

Brigadier General Shirko Fatih, commander of the Peshmerga brigade, was among the wounded Kurdish security members, the source said.

Earlier, the Kurdish forces took full control of the city of Kirkuk and large areas to the west and south of the city after Iraqi security forces fled following the June blitzkrieg by the Sunni militant groups.

The ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk is part of the disputed areas claimed by the Kurds and both Arabs and Turkomans. The Kurds want to incorporate the areas on the edge of their Kurdistan region, but their move is fiercely opposed by Baghdad government.

In Diyala province, fierce clashes erupted in al-Harouniyah area near the city of Maqdadiyah between the security forces and Sunni militants, leaving 13 militants, two policemen and a soldier dead, Sadiq al-Hussieny, head of the security committee of Diyala' s provincial council, told Xinhua.

Three militants, including an insurgent group leader, were killed in separate clashes with security forces across the province, a provincial police source said.

In Anbar province, security forces battled insurgent groups near the militant-controlled town of Garma, just east of the city of Fallujah, killing 13 militants, a provincial police source anonymously told Xinhua.

Meanwhile, three people were killed and 19 others wounded in artillery and mortar shelling on several neighborhoods of the city of Fallujah, a medical source from the city hospital said.

The battles in the Sunni Arab provinces have lasted more than a month and have dramatically increased instability with violence and sporadic deadly attacks gripping the country, particularly the capital Baghdad, which Sunni militants are keen to attack.

In one of the attacks in Baghdad, a bomb hidden outside a Shiite mosque in the wholesale market of Shorja in central the capital, exploded, killing at least two people and wounding 10 others, an Interior Ministry source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

In a separate incident, a suicide bomber blew up an explosive- laden car into a police checkpoint in Taji area, just north of Baghdad, leaving at least two policemen dead and five others wounded, the source said.

[Source: Xinhua, Baghdad, 17Jul14]

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