At least 16 people were killed in and around the Iraqi capital of Baghdad overnight in attacks which follow the city's bloodiest weekend since insurgents seized parts of the country in June.
Mortar rounds exploded in Shiite areas of Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, leaving 11 civilians dead and 31 injured, while an IED in Abu Ghraib, northwest of Baghdad, killed five government troops and wounded eight others, military and medical sources told the Associated Press.
On Saturday, 27 died in a series of bombings targeting predominantly Shiite areas in the capital, according to officials. The first and largest explosion took place when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive-packed car at a police checkpoint, killing nine and injuring 21. Four other car bombs followed in districts around the city, leaving 20 dead. It was the worst loss of life in Baghdad since hardline Sunni militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) overran large swathes of northern Iraq in a June lightning offensive.
Also today, ISIS fighters stormed the historic Mar Behnam Syriac Catholic Monastery outside the majority Christian town of Qaraqosh and drove out the monks who lived there, sources told Agence France Press. The monks were not allowed to take holy relics or any other possessions with them, and forced to leave on foot, a member of the clergy told AFP. Hundreds of Christians also fled Iraq's second city of Mosul — captured by ISIS on June 12 — over the weekend after the group demanded that they either pay a special tax, leave, or be killed.
Forces loyal to Iraq's Shiite-led government have been struggling to counter the threat posed by ISIS-led insurgents and the army, militants, and volunteers have been fighting the insurgents on several fronts. Progress has been sporadic, however. A Shiite militia member who had just returned from Samarrah north of Baghdad, where his unit had been engaged in what he described as heavy clashes with well-equipped and well-embedded militants, told VICE News today that they had struggled to reclaim territory.
"There's no improvement on the ground, or at least very little improvement," he said.
ISIS-led militants also repelled the Iraqi army's latest assault on Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit last week, marking another failed attempt by Baghdad to retake the city. Government troops and Shiite militias launched an offensive — code named operation "Sharp Sword” — with an assault from the south of the city. However the forces were forced to withdraw under heavy mortar bombardment and sniper fire, soldiers involved told Al Jazeera.
Iraqi government forces have been trying to retake Tikrit, which is 100 miles north of Baghdad and was overrun by ISIS on June 12, for more than three weeks, launching a number of assaults backed by armored vehicles and helicopter gunships. So far, however, they have been unable to dislodge the insurgents.
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