Iraq army kills 17 in anti-jihadist raid

Hilla (Iraq) (AFP) - An Iraqi government raid on jihadist targets in a flashpoint town southwest of Baghdad killed 17 people on Monday, including at least three civilians, medical and tribal sources said.

"Bombardment targeted the Fadhiyya district at 1:00 am," Sheikh Mohammad al-Janabi, a tribal chief from Jurf al-Sakhr, a town 60 kilometres (40 miles) from Baghdad, told AFP.

Janabi said two women and a child were among the dead, a toll confirmed by a doctor at the main hospital in nearby Iskandariyah.

Both said that 12 people were also wounded and that some of them were transferred to the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah in the neighbouring province of Anbar.

That suggests some of the casualties of the raid were jihadist fighters from the Islamic State or one of its allied Sunni militant groups, although none of the sources could say how many.

A lieutenant in the Iraqi army said: "The Iraqi forces used a variety of weapons to target insurgent bases in Jurf al-Sakhr overnight."

The mainly Sunni town, which lies in the north of Babil province, is the scene of almost daily fighting between pro-government forces and Sunni militants.

Islamic State (IS) jihadists launched a sweeping offensive in northern Iraq on June 9, conquering the second city Mosul and large parts of the country's Sunni heartland.

Jurf al-Sakhr lies on the edge of what became known during a previous wave of sectarian bloodshed eight years ago as the "triangle of death".

The army and allied Shiite militia, such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq, take up positions in the town during the day but often pull back at night, which allows insurgents to plant roadside bombs.

The loss of Jurf al-Sakhr would threaten government control over one of only two main roads linking Baghdad to the southern Shiite heartland, including the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.

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The rebellious Sunni city of Fallujah is cut off from IS' desert stronghold on the Syrian border by government-controled pockets, notably in Anbar's capital Ramadi.

The province's police chief, Major General Ahmad Saddag al-Dulaimi, told AFP that his forces and allied tribal fighters beat off an attack on Ramadi Sunday.

He described the fighting as the fiercest between government forces and IS in the region and added: "Nine policemen were killed and 11 wounded in 17 hours of battle."

Doctor Ahmad al-Ani, at Ramadi hospital, confirmed the toll.

Dulaimi claimed anti-jihadist forces killed 35 IS fighters and captured 14, but AFP was not immediately able to confirm those figures.

"They were carrying the black flag and most of them were dressed Afghan-style," he said.

A captain in the army confirmed there had been intense fighting in Albu Faraj, north of Ramadi.

"They are testing the resistance of the security forces and the tribes," he said.

North of Baghdad, three fighters from the Shiite militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq were killed and five wounded near Mansuriyah while defending the Hamrin dam from an IS attack, army and hospital sources said.

Meanwhile, in the capital, four people were shot dead with silenced weapons in three different neighbourhoods Monday, police and medics said.

The sources described them as civilians but said the exact circumstances of their deaths were not immediately clear.

Twelve unidentified bodies with bullet wounds were also found in different, mainly Shiite, districts of Baghdad, an official at the ministry of interior and a medic said.

While IS fighters have been repulsed in their efforts to move closer to Baghdad, the kind of violence that plagued the capital long before the onslaught has continued.

Car bombings, mostly targeting police checkpoints but also restaurants and shops, roadside bombs, "sticky bombs" concealed on parked vehicles and remotely detonated, assassinations and kidnappings occur almost daily.

The violence has caused intense displacement of both Sunnis and Shiites, turning a once very mixed city into a honeycomb of religiously homogenous neighbourhoods.