BAGHDAD – Iraqi soldiers backed by Shiite militiamen retook control Sunday of a Sunni town seized previously by Islamic militants, said an Iraqi official and state-run TV, a rare victory for Iraqi security forces that have been battling to regain areas lost to the militants.
The provincial official said that government forces entered Jurf al-Sakhar, which fell to fighters from the Islamic State group in late July.
Col. Muthana Khalid, spokesman of the Babil provincial police, said the battle over the town left dozens of militants dead or wounded.
“Our soldiers raised the Iraqi flag over government offices and buildings in the town. It is another victory achieved against the terrorists,” Khalid added.
The town, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of the capital, is part of a predominantly Sunni ribbon that runs just south of Baghdad.
State-run TV showed footage of Iraqi soldiers walking near Jurf al-Sakhar police station and the municipal building. Also, explosive experts were shown detonating some roadside bombs planted by the insurgents in order to delay the advance of the Iraqi forces.
The cleared town lies on a road usually taken by Shite pilgrims who will be heading in droves to the holy Shiite city of Karbala next week in order to commemorate the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein – one of the most revered Shiite martyrs.
The Islamic State group captured large swaths of territory in western and northern Iraq in an offensive earlier this year, plunging the country into its worst crisis since U.S. troops left at the end of 2011.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military said Sunday it launched airstrikes north and west of Baghdad, hitting a small Islamic State group unit and destroying armed vehicles.
Police and hospital officials said a bomb exploded on a commercial street in western Baghdad, killing three people and wounding eight others. In southern Baghdad, a bomb blast near a line of shops killed two persons and wounded seven others.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.