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Iraqi forces claim 2 towns wrested from ISIS

| Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014, 8:15 p.m.

BAGHDAD — Iraqi forces said Sunday they retook two towns north of Baghdad from Islamic State fighters, driving them from strongholds they had held for months and clearing a main road from the capital to Iran.

There was no independent confirmation that the army, Shiite militia and Kurdish peshmerga forces had completely retaken Jalawla and Saadiya, about 70 miles northeast of Baghdad. Many residents fled the violence long ago.

At least 23 peshmerga and militia fighters were killed, and dozens were wounded in the fighting, medical and army sources said.

“We have liberated Jalawla and Saadiya,” said Mala Bakhtiar, a senior official in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, speaking by phone from a nearby town. He estimated 50 ISIS fighters may have been killed out of a force of 400.

Iraq's Shiite-led government, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, has been trying to push back ISIS since it swept through mainly Sunni Muslim provinces of northern Iraq in June, meeting virtually no resistance.

The terrorists have been fighting in the past two days to take full control of the Anbar provincial capital, Ramadi. On Sunday, Iraqi and foreign jets struck ISIS fighters near central Ramadi, provincial council member Mahmoud Ahmed Khalaf said.

Jalawla and Saadiya are in Diyala province, which is mainly under the control of the Baghdad government forces and Kurdish peshmerga.

Recapturing the towns would help secure the Kurdish-controlled towns of Kalar and Khanaqin to the north, as well as nearby dams and oil fields, peshmerga Secretary-General Jabbar Yawar said.

While the hardline Sunni Islamic State forces have not advanced into Baghdad, they hold a ring of towns around the mainly Shiite capital and have claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in Shiite districts of the city.

A car bomb in the Shi'ite town of Yousufiya, 20 miles southeast of Baghdad, killed five people Sunday, police and medics said. Two other bombs in towns near the capital killed four other people.

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