By Mazen Abdulhameed
Azzaman, February 8, 2015
Iraqi troops have purged a major neighborhood in Baiji of Islamic State militants in what is seen as a fresh move to retake the whole town.
A military source, refusing to be named for security reasons, said 43 militants were killed in the operation and 15 explosive charges defused. The source declined to give figures about casualties on Iraqi side.
“The Command of Salahudeen Operations assisted by volunteers engaged elements of Da’esh in the al-Askari district, killing 43 of them, defusing 15 explosive charges and and liberating the whole district,” the source said.
Da’esh is the Arabic name for Islamic State.
However, the source added, that progress by Iraqi government troops “has been slow to avoid casualties in their ranks.”
Baiji is situated north of Tikrit, the capital of Salahudeen Province. The jihadist group still occupies Tikrit and large parts of Baiji. The district which the army says it has retaken lies in the town’s outskirts.
The town is a major oil producing and refining center. The militants have failed to occupy Baiji refinery, the largest in Iraq and with a capacity of 350,000 barrels a day. However, they have controlled several oil fields in the area.
The source said U.S. and allied warplanes targeted Islamic State hideouts in Salahudeen, killing a militant leader and five of his associates.
Islamic State militants invaded northern and western parts of Iraq in June last year, occupying major towns among them Mosul, Iraq’s second largest.
Initially, they moved at a dizzy speed with both Iraqi and Kurdish forces fleeing in face of their lightning advance.
But bombing by U.S. allies seems to have halted the group’s gains in territory with Iraqi and Kurdish forces retaking some areas and villages.