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IRAQ WARS
30 killed at Iraqi shrine, days after Baghdad blast
By Ammar Karim
Baghdad (AFP) July 8, 2016


Iraq army seizes key airbase from IS south of Mosul
Baghdad (AFP) July 9, 2016 - Iraqi forces have captured a key airbase from the Islamic State group that can serve as a launchpad for retaking the jihadist-held city of Mosul, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Saturday.

The Qayyarah airbase in the Tigris valley 60 kilometres (35 miles) south of Mosul would be "an important base for the liberation of Mosul," Abadi said in a statement.

He called for the people of Iraq's northwestern Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, to "prepare for the liberation of their cities."

Iraq's Joint Operations Command said two army divisions and members of the country's counter-terrorism forces took the base with air support from a US-led international coalition.

Security sources said jihadists had fled towards Mosul after the base was taken.

An officer taking part in the operation said bomb disposal teams were removing booby traps and mines left behind by IS fighters.

No further details were immediately available on the scale of fighting for the base.

At the end of last month, Iraqi forces recaptured Fallujah, a city 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Baghdad, in a major setback for IS.

That focused attention on the battle to remove IS from the northwest of the country.

In recent months, IS has lost significant parts of the territory north and west of Baghdad which it seized in 2014.

The fighting to get into Fallujah was initially fierce, particularly on the southern side, and Iraqi forces were supported by more than 100 US-led coalition air strikes.

On June 26, Abadi stood outside a hospital in Fallujah and vowed that the Iraqi flag would soon be raised over Mosul.

In his statement on Saturday, he said government forces had advanced 100 kilometres (60 miles) in the past few days.

"This is important revenge against the terrorist gangs, which we will crush and cleanse from all of our land very soon," he said.

Rights groups have raised concerns about alleged abuses carried out by Iraqi forces during the fight for Fallujah, including executions of civilians.

Human Rights Watch called on the government on Thursday to be transparent about an enquiry into the alleged abuses, which it said was "mired in secrecy".

More than 80,000 people have been displaced since the start of the Fallujah offensive, bringing to more than 3.3 million the number of Iraqis forced from their homes by conflict since the start of 2014.

The Sunni extremist group has responded to its battlefield setbacks by hitting back against civilians, particularly Shiites.

Experts have warned there may be more bombings as the jihadists continue to lose ground.

IS said it had carried out an attack on a Shiite shrine north of Baghdad that started Thursday evening and killed 30 people.

That came just days after a devastating bombing in the capital that killed 292 people.

Islamic State group extremists attacked a Shiite shrine north of Baghdad, killing 30 people, just days after one of the deadliest ever bombings in the country, a security spokesman said Friday.

The overnight attack on the Sayyid Mohammed shrine in Balad, which involved suicide bombers and gun and mortar fire, also wounded 50 people, the Joint Operations Command spokesman said in a statement.

The attack followed a devastating bombing in Baghdad that tore through a crowded shopping area early on Sunday ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, killing 292 people.

The Sayyid Mohammed shrine, located in the Balad area, 70 kilometres (around 45 miles) north of Baghdad, was first targeted with mortar rounds, according to the statement on the attack, which it said it was carried out by the IS jihadist group.

Suicide bombers then arrived at the shrine and opened fire, it said.

Two of the bombers blew themselves up in a market next to the shrine, while the third was killed and his explosive belt defused, it said, without specifying which forces killed the bomber.

The attack came just hours after Iraqi Health Minister Adila Hamoud announced that the death toll from the Sunday bombing had reached 292.

Hamoud said the bodies of 115 killed in the bombing had now been handed over to families, while the identities of 177 others have yet to be determined.

The blast also wounded 200 people, said the minister, who on Tuesday told AFP that the process of identifying the unknown dead -- which she put at 150 at the time -- was expected to take 15-45 days.

People have been furious over delays in determining the fate of their loved ones, and with the number of unidentified bodies now bigger, it may take even longer.

- Lack of emergency exits -

The attack has overshadowed what would normally be a joyful holiday for Iraqi Muslims, instead turning it into a time of mourning and sadness.

Investigators now believe they know what caused the attack to claim so many lives.

Police Major General Talib Khalil Rahi said the suicide bomber detonated a minibus loaded with plastic explosives and ammonium nitrate.

The initial blast killed a limited number of people, but flames spread and trapped people inside shopping centres that lacked emergency exits, Rahi told a news conference in Baghdad.

The raging fires have made it difficult to identify the dead.

Interior Minister Mohammed Ghabban tendered his resignation following the bombing, and authorities also announced the execution of five convicts and the arrest of 40 jihadists in an apparent bid to limit the fallout from the attack.

An official in Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's office told AFP on Wednesday that the premier had accepted the minister's resignation, though there has been no official statement from him on the matter.

Sunday's bombing was claimed by IS, which has its roots in the insurgency that began after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in the 2003 US-led invasion.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces have since regained significant territory from the jihadists.

In response to the battlefield setbacks, the Sunni extremist group has hit back against civilians, and experts have warned there may be more bombings as the jihadists continue to lose ground.


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