Militant attack kills six soldiers in western Iraq

AFP , Monday 21 Mar 2016

Iraqi soldiers
March 9, 2016 file photo, Popular Mobilization forces chant slogans against the Islamic State group as Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi tours the front line in Anbar, Iraq (Photo: AP)

Militants fighters killed at least six soldiers in western Iraq in an attack Monday that began with five suicide bombers driving explosives-laden vehicles into a checkpoint, officials said.

A senior officer in the Iraqi army, which was manning the checkpoint near the town of Al-Baghdadi in Anbar province, said nine soldiers were also wounded in the morning attack.

He told AFP that after the suicide attacks some 25 militants launched an assault on the checkpoint, the main one on the road leading to Al-Asad air base, where a large number of Iraqi troops and foreign advisers are stationed.

The officer said most of the gunmen were wearing suicide vests.

About five hours of clashes ensued, he said, and all the attackers were killed, with the support of strikes from the US-led international coalition.

Malallah al-Obeidi, the head of the Al-Baghdadi local council, confirmed the details of the attack and said that Iraqi forces were in control of the checkpoint.

Al-Baghdadi lies on the Euphrates river, about 180 kilometres (110 miles) northwest of Baghdad.

Iraqi security forces have in recent days been involved in a major push to retake the city of Hit, which lies further along the river and is controlled by the Islamic State group.

They are closing in on the town from Al-Baghdadi and from Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province which was fully retaken from IS group last month.

The vast operation to flush IS group out of cities in Anbar has displaced tens of thousands of people and fighting is far from over.

"We fear that as many as 50,000 individuals will be displaced in the upcoming days as the military operations continue," said the Norwegian Refugee Council's Programme Manager, Salah Noori.

Aid agencies have warned that the families displaced from Hit and its surroundings are very hard to reach and still dangerously close to the front lines.

Some 53,000 people had already been forced to flee their homes this year before the start of the operation to retake Hit, according to UN figures.

The International Organisation for Migration says 44 percent of the more than 3.3 million people displaced in Iraq since the beginning of 2014 are from Anbar.

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