Deaths reported in Iraqi army raid

At least 17 people, including two women and child, killed as “armed groups” are targeted in town near Baghdad.

Security was stepped up in and around the Iraqi capital in the run-up to the holiday of Eid al-Fitr [Reuters]

An Iraqi government raid on targets of armed groups in a town southwest of Baghdad has killed 17 people, including at least three civilians, according to medical and tribal sources.

Among the dead in Fadhiyya district, in the town of Jurf al-Sakhr, were two women and a child, Sheikh Mohammad al-Janabi, a tribal chief from the town, said on Monday.

“Bombardment targeted the Fadhiyya district at 1am,” he said. The toll was confirmed by a medic in a nearby hospital, according to the AFP news agency.

At least 12 people were reported wounded in the violence in Jurf al-Sakhr, 60km from Baghdad.

Some of the injured were transferred to the Sunni fighters’ stronghold of Fallujah in the neighbouring province of Anbar,

AFP reported suggesting that some of the casualties of the raid were self-declared jihadist fighters from the Islamic State group or one of its allied Sunni factions.

A lieutenant in the Iraqi army said “the Iraqi forces used a variety of weapons to target armed groups’ bases in Jurf al-Sakhr overnight”.

Security plan

The mainly Sunni town, which lies in the north of Babil province, is the scene of almost daily fighting between pro-government forces and Sunni fighters.

The Islamic State fighters launched a sweeping offensive in northern Iraq on June 9, conquering the second city Mosul and large parts of the country’s Sunni heartland.

The army and allied Shia armed groups have taken up positions in Jurf al-Sakhr to prevent a takeover by Sunni fighters.

The loss of the town would threaten government control over one of only two main roads linking Baghdad to the southern Shia heartland, including the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.

The government on Sunday reinforced checkpoints at the entrances of Baghdad by high numbers of officers, with additional forces deployed to public gardens, in attempt to prevent attacks by the Islamic State group and allied Sunni groups.

The new security plan were taken before the Islamic feast of Eid al-Fitr. Iraqi Sunni Muslims observed the first day of Eid al-Fitr on Monday, while Iraq’s majority Shia Muslims are to start the Eid holiday a day after.

At least 5,576 Iraqi civilians have been killed this year in violence, the UN said in the most detailed account yet of the impact of months of unrest culminating in advances by Sunni fighters led by the Islamic State group.

‘Polarising PM’

The rapid sweep of Sunni fighters through northern Iraq has deepened sectarian tensions and raised fears of a possible return to the kidnappings and killings of the 2006-2007 civil war.

Amid the rise of sectarian incidents, more Iraqis were seeing Nouri al- Maliki, the prime minister, as a polarising figure and demands for his resignation intensified.

His Shia-led government’s perceived marginalisation of Sunni Muslims has caused some to find common cause with the Islamic State, which aims to reshape the Middle East and impose its radical ideology.

“We need a new prime minister. The Shia parties must nominate a replacement for Mr. Maliki; there are a number of capable candidates,” wrote Rafe al-Essawi, former finance minister, and Atheel al-Nujaifi, governor of Nineveh, in the New York Times on Monday.

Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and capital of Nineveh province, is now under the control of the Islamic State.

“Parliament must reverse Mr Maliki’s politicisation of the security forces and establish new local forces to safeguard the population in Sunni areas,” they argue.

They said that Shia militias such as like Asaib al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah and the Badr Corps should not be fighting alongside government troops, and the Islamic State should be would be banned as a terrorist group.

“The only armed forces permitted in Iraq would be those officially sanctioned by the government,”  Essawi and Nujaifi wrote.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies