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Attack on Iraqi barracks dents stability efforts in Sunni area

| Sunday, May 11, 2014, 8:33 p.m.

BAGHDAD — Militants in Iraq started an audacious attack on a military barracks in a remote area in the north and killed 20 troops overnight, including some who had been bound and shot at close range, authorities said on Sunday as other attacks killed 18.

The attack in the village of Ayn al-Jahish outside of Mosul mirrored two assaults earlier this year in the area targeting security forces. It represents the latest blow to the government's efforts to achieve stability in restive Sunni-dominated areas.

Gunmen staged the assault late Saturday, two police officers said, and shot some at short range while others died fighting the insurgents when they stormed the barracks. A medical official, who confirmed the casualty number, said 11 troops had their hands tied behind their backs and suffered close-range gunshots to the head.

The slain troops were in charge of protecting an oil pipeline that sends Iraqi crude oil to international markets and guarding a nearby highway. Attacks on the pipeline are common in that area near Mosul, about 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

No group claimed responsibility for the barracks attack. However, it mirrored a February attack in the area claimed by the al-Qaida breakaway group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. In that one, fighters from the group killed 15 soldiers at the barracks, beheading some. In April, militants killed at least 10 soldiers at a base outside of Mosul.

Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, was al-Qaida's last major urban stronghold in the country before American troops wrested it back in 2008. However, Sunni insurgent groups remain strong in the region long after the American withdrawal from the country, challenging Iraq's Shiite-led government.

Recent attacks occur amid a surge in violence to levels unseen since 2008. Last year, Iraq had its highest annual death toll since 2007 with 8,868 people killed, according to United Nations figures.

The insurgents have been emboldened by the civil war in Syria, where rebels are fighting to oust the regime of President Bashar Assad, a follower of a Shiite offshoot sect. The rebels are dominated by Islamists and members of al-Qaida-linked or inspired groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Shiite militiamen from Iraq fight on the side of Assad's forces.

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