Iraq strike takes out 25 rebels
BAGHDAD — A government airstrike on Tuesday killed 25 al-Qaida-linked militants in a besieged province west of Baghdad amid fierce clashes between Iraqi special forces and insurgents battling for control of the key cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, said Iraqi officials.
The al-Qaida gains in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar — once bloody battlegrounds for U.S. troops — pose the most serious challenge to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government since the departure of American forces in late 2011.
Iraqi forces and fighters from government-allied Sunni tribes have been battling militants to try recapturing the strategic territory It was seized last week by the al-Qaida-linked group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Iraq military spokesman Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said the air force struck an operations center of the militants on the outskirts of Ramadi, the provincial capital. The assault killed 25 fighters who were holed up inside.
He didn't give more details about how the death toll was confirmed but cited intelligence reports. It was not possible to independently verify the military's claim.
The airstrike occurred when clashes erupted about 12 miles west of Fallujah after the capture of an army officer and four soldiers in the area on Monday, said provincial spokesman Dhari al-Rishawi.
The attacks continued when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden truck into a police station in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing two people there and wounding 55, some critically, according to Maj. Raid Emad Rasheed.
A roadside bomb struck an army patrol southeast of Baghdad, in the Madain area, killing one soldier and wounding another, a police official said. Another bomb hit a patrol of pro-government Sunni militiamen in Baghdad's southeastern suburb of Jisr Diyala, killing one fighter and wounding four, he added.
A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to talk to the media.
The death toll in 2013 was the highest in Iraq since the worst of the sectarian bloodletting began to subside in 2007, according to United Nations figures. The U.N. said violence killed 8,868 last year.