At least six killed as militants assault Iraq's Samarra

Photo: At least six killed as militants assault Iraq's Samarra / Arab World

Militants launched a major attack on the Iraqi city of Samarra on Thursday and occupied several neighbourhoods, sparking house-to-house fighting and helicopter strikes in which dozens of people were reportedly killed, Your Middle East reported.

The assault comes with Iraq already facing major security challenges, including anti-government fighters holding all of one city and parts of another for more than five months, and as the country suffers its worst violence in years.

On Thursday morning, militants travelling in dozens of vehicles, some mounted with anti-aircraft guns, attacked a major checkpoint on the southeast side of Samarra, killing the security forces guarding it and burning their vehicles, witnesses said.

They then took control of several areas of the city, north of Baghdad, according to witnesses, who reported seeing the bodies of both security forces and gunmen in the streets.

The assault sparked heavy fighting, and a police officer said reinforcements including members of Iraq's elite counter-terrorism forces were dispatched to Samarra to combat the militants.

At one point, an AFP journalist saw helicopters firing into the city.

Security forces and tribal fighters were able to retake "97 percent" of the city, while operations to regain other areas were still ongoing, army Staff Lieutenant General Sabah al-Fatlawi told AFP late on Thursday afternoon.

"We were able to kill 80 (militants) in strikes and attacks and clashes, from house to house and one street to another," Fatlawi said.

A police major and a doctor said earlier in the day that six police were killed and 24 people wounded in the fighting, but the final casualty figures for security forces were not immediately clear.

The police officer also said security forces withdrew from other areas to defend a revered Shiite shrine in central Samarra, which was bombed by militants in February 2006, sparking a brutal Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict that killed tens of thousands.

In other violence on Thursday, a bomb exploded near a cafe south of Baghdad, killing two people, while an education directorate employee was shot dead in the northern city of Mosul, security and medical officials said.

Security forces also killed 40 militants south of Mosul and one inside the city, officials said.

The assault in Samarra came as a standoff between anti-government fighters and security forces in Iraq's Anbar province, west of Baghdad, entered its sixth month.

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