IS Attack Samarra Ahead of Army Offensive

IS Attack Samarra Ahead of Army OffensiveIS Attack Samarra Ahead of Army Offensive

Islamic State suicide bombers and militants struck targets on Saturday in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra, where security forces and their Shiite militia allies have been gathering for an offensive against the extremist group.

Security sources and residents said two IS suicide bombers blew up their cars in the northern area of Sur Shnas in the early hours of morning.

At the same time a man drove a Humvee rigged with explosives into the south of the city and detonated it, while IS insurgents attacked security forces to the west with sniper fire, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, Reuters said in a report.

Medical sources said Samarra hospital received the bodies of 14 Shiite militia fighters and policemen.

Residents reported seeing black smoke over parts of the city and hearing powerful explosions. After heavy clashes in the morning, the fighting appeared to have subsided by the afternoon.

Thousands of troops and fighters from Shiite militias known as Hashid Shaabi have gathered around Samarra for a campaign to drive IS out of nearby strongholds on the Tigris River, including the city of Tikrit 50km to the north.

The army shelled northern and western districts of Tikrit on Saturday, but did not send troops into the city, security sources said. Army helicopters had also fired rockets at IS militants around Sur Shnas, they said.

In the town of Ishaaqi, about 20km southeast of Samarra, snipers shot dead two Hashid Shaabi men as they tried to set up a sand barrier on the main highway linking Samarra to the capital Baghdad.

Further east in Diyala province, 11 people were killed in a twin car bombing in the town of Balad Roz on Saturday. One of those killed was a judge, security and medical sources said.

The army and Shiite fighters have driven IS out of nearly all of Diyala province, which lies to the north-east of Baghdad.