Iraq's Kurdish forces fight to retake key towns

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Iraq's Kurdish security forces on Sunday carried out an offensive to retake control of Christian towns and Iraq's largest dam in the northern province of Nineveh, as Iraqi security forces continued to battle insurgent groups across the country, security and medical sources said.

In the early hours of the day, Peshmerga Kurdish forces carried out an offensive aimed at recapturing the Mosul Dam on the Tigris River, about 70 km north of Nineveh's provincial capital city of Mosul, which the Islamic State militants seized earlier last week, a Kurdish security source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

During their advance, the Kurdish forces backed by Iraqi aircraft managed to retake control of two Christian towns of Tal- Asquf and Batnayah, just in north of Mosul, which located about 400 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, the source said.

The Kurdish offensive was designed to take the advantage of airstrikes conducted earlier by U.S. aircraft against the positions of the Islamic State militant group in the area, the source said.

The Kurdish troops are fighting fierce clashes with the insurgent militants around the dam and so far have seized the eastern part of the dam, the source added.

On Saturday, U.S. military forces said in a statement released by U.S. Central Command that a mix of fighter and remotely piloted U.S. aircraft conducted strikes near Arbil and the Mosul Dam in north Iraq.

It said the nine airstrikes conducted thus far destroyed or damaged four armored personnel carriers, seven armed vehicles, two Humvees and an armored vehicle.

A medical source in the militant-seized city of Mosul told reporters that the morgue of the main hospital in Mosul received 29 bodies of Islamic militants said to be killed by the U.S. airstrikes and more than 22 others admitted to hospitals of injuries sustained in airstrikes.

In Salahudin province, at least 12 Islamic militants were killed in clashes with Sunni tribal fighters backed by a local police force of the town of Duluiyah, about 90 km north of Baghdad, a provincial police source anonymously told Xinhua.

The clashes also resulted in the wounding of three policemen, the source said.

During the past few weeks, al-Jubour tribal fighters in Duluiyah and the town's policemen have repelled many attacks by the Islamic State militants which tried to capture the town.

Also in the province, a roadside bomb struck a joint police and army patrol in the western part of the city of Samarra, some 120 km north of Baghdad, leaving a policeman killed and three others wounded, the source added.

In Iraq's eastern province of Diyala, a booby-trapped house detonated while a group of a government-backed Shiite militiamen, known as Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, stormed the house, killing two militiamen and critically wounding another, a provincial police source said.

The Shiite militia of Asa'b Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, is said to be a splintered group from the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. They are part of what the U.S. and Iraqi officials earlier named Special Groups, who are allegedly funded, trained and armed by Iran's Quds Force during the U.S. occupation of Iraq and later became allied to the Shiite- led government in Baghdad.

Separately, the Islamic State militants executed an ex-army officer under Saddam Hussein regime and a district administrative official in the town of Jalawlaa, some 130 km northeast of Baghdad, the source said.

The ethnically mixed town of Jalawlaa has been the scene of fierce clashes between the Peshmerga Kurdish security forces and the Islamic State militants who captured the town a few day ago.

In addition, at least seven people were wounded in mortar barrage on the militants-seized city of Saadiyah, some 120 km northeast of Baghdad, the source added.

The security situation began to drastically deteriorate in Iraq on June 10 when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and hundreds of Sunni militants who took control of the country's northern city of Mosul and later seized swathes of territories after the Iraqi security forces abandoned their posts in Nineveh and other predominantly Sunni provinces.

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