59 killed in airstrikes, clashes in Iraq

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Baghdad, Sep 24: At least 59 people were killed in separate airstrikes and clashes with the Islamic State (IS) militants across Iraq on Wednesday, while the militants blew two archeological and religious sites in Salahudin province, security sources said.

In Iraq's eastern province of Diyala, Iraqi security forces backed by Shia militias recaptured two villages of Nowfel and Bablan in north of the city of Maqdadiyah, 100 km northeast of Iraq's capital Baghdad, after fierce clashes with militant groups, including those affiliated to the IS, Jamil al-Shimary, the provincial police chief, told Xinhua.

The troops and allied militiamen killed at least 15 of the extremists and destroyed four of their vehicles, al-Shimary said, adding that the troops were advancing slowly to free more villages in the rural areas north of Maqdadiyah, including the small dam of Sudour, as the militants planted dozens of roadside bombs in all the roads and orchards.

In addition, the IS militants withdrew from four villages near the town of Qara Tabba, some 175 km northeast of Baghdad, due to continuing clashes with the the Kurdish Peshmerga security forces, and increasing air strikes during the past few days, a provincial security source told Xinhua.

The insurgent militants resorted to nearby Himreen mountainous area to get rid of the Kurdish attacks and reorganise their militants, the source said.

In Anbar province, dozens of IS militants carried out an attack in the morning on the southern districts under the control of security forces in the provincial capital city of Ramadi, some 110 km west of Baghdad, but the troops and allied tribesmen repelled the attack after heavy clashes, a provincial security source told Xinhua.

The clashes in Ramadi resulted in the killing of 11 IS militants, two policemen and a tribesman, the source said.

Also in the day, up to 30 IS militants were killed and five of their vehicles, carrying heavy machine guns, were destroyed by US and Iraqi airstrikes on the extremist group's positions in the towns of Saqlawiyah, Garma and Sicher area near the militant-seized city of Fallujah, some 50 km west of Baghdad, the source added.

In Salahudin province, the IS militants destroyed one of Iraq's most important archeological sites when they blew up the Green Church in the provincial capital city of Tikrit, about 170 km north of Baghdad, a provincial security source told Xinhua.

The ancient site used to be the biggest church in Tikrit, which was the capital of the East for Christianity. The Romans, who embraced Christianity, tried to make use of its location as a deterrent remote outpost of the Roman Empire against the Persians. However, the Islamic conquest put an end to the Roman control over the city in 637 AD.

The extremists also bombed an ancient Muslim shrine in Tikrit, which believed it included the tombs of the 40 Muslim leaders who took control of the city during the Islamic conquest in the 7th century.

The security situation began to drastically deteriorate in Iraq since June 10 when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and hundreds of IS militants, who took control of the country's northern city of Mosul and later seized swathes of territories after the Iraqi security forces abandoned their posts in Nineveh and other predominantly Sunni provinces.

IANS

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