BAGHDAD, February 28: Islamic State militants attacked Iraqi security forces on the western outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday in their largest assault near the capital for months, while two suicide blasts in a mainly Shi’ite district killed 31 people.
Suicide bombers and gunmen in vehicles and on foot launched the attack on Abu Ghraib at dawn, seizing positions in a grain silo and a cemetery, and killing at least 17 members of the security forces, officials said.
Fighting was still raging at the silo site on Sunday evening, security officials said.
Security officials blamed Islamic State, and a news agency that supports the group said it had launched a “wide attack” in Abu Ghraib, 25 km (15 miles) from the center of Baghdad and next to the international airport.
Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have driven Islamic State back recently in western Anbar province and are preparing for an offensive to retake the northern city of Mosul, but the militants are still able to strike in Baghdad and other cities outside their main areas of control.
Later on Sunday, two suicide bombers riding motorcycles blew themselves up in a crowded mobile phone market in the Shi’ite Sadr City district, wounding more than 60 people in addition to the dead, police and medical sources said.
A Reuters witness saw pools of blood on the ground with slippers, shoes and mobile phones at the site of the blast, which was sealed off to prevent further attacks.
In a statement circulated online, Islamic State said two suicide bombers had carried out the attack, killing and wounding “hundreds of polytheist rejectionists”, as the ultra-hardline Sunni group refers to Shi’ite Muslims.
Baghdad-based security analyst Jasim al-Bahadli said Sunday’s attacks suggested it was premature to declare that Islamic State was losing the initiative in Iraq.
“Government forces must do a better job repelling attacks launched by Daesh. What happened today could be a setback for the security forces,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
In Abu Ghraib, a curfew was imposed as a regiment of Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism forces was mobilized to retake the silo and prevent the militants approaching the nearby airport, security officials said.-Reuters