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IS kills 31 in Tikrit

TIKRIT, Iraq, April 5, (RTRS): At least 31 people were killed, including 14 police officers, and more than 40 wounded in attacks overnight by Islamic State militants in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, security and medical sources said on Wednesday.

The militants wore police uniforms and used a police vehicle to enter the city, 175 kms (110 miles) north of Baghdad, police colonel Khalid Mahmoud told Reuters. He said there were around 10 attackers, including two suicide bombers. Islamic State’s Amaq news agency said seven suicide fighters attacked a police position and the home of the head of the city’s counter-terrorism service, who was killed. The assailants blew themselves up when they ran out of ammunition, it said. A total of 31 bodies were taken to hospital, including 14 policemen, said Nawfal Mustafa, a doctor at the city’s main hospital. The death toll rose during the morning as the bodies of civilians killed in their shops were found.

The attacks targeted a police checkpoint and the house of a police colonel, who was killed with four members of his family, officers said. Two suicide attackers detonated their vests when surrounded by police, and three others were killed in separate clashes. Five militants are thought to be hiding and Mahmoud said Tikrit authorities had declared a curfew on Wednesday. Sporadic gunfire could be heard in the morning.

A US-backed offensive is underway to dislodge Islamic State from the remaining districts under its control in Mosul, 225 kms away, the group’s last major urban stronghold in Iraq. The militants overran about a third of Iraq’s territory nearly three years ago, capturing most Sunni Arab cities located north and west of Baghdad, including Tikrit. Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias drove the militants away from Tikrit two years ago.

Tikrit is the home region of Saddam Hussein, the former president toppled in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. In other news, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, voiced optimism about the long-term US alliance with Iraq’s military and its campaign to retake Mosul from Islamic State on Tuesday, as he visited a base about 10 miles (16 kms) from the city. Kushner was on the last day of a twoday trip to Iraq as the guest of Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The visit to the Hammam al-Alil base included an operational briefing from Iraqi and US commanders.

The trip has demonstrated the farreaching portfolio of Kushner, 36, who is part of Trump’s innermost circle and who has been given a wide range of domestic and foreign policy responsibilities, including working on a Middle East peace deal. His views on Iraq could shape Trump’s own opinions. It comes as Trump is examining ways to accelerate a US-led coalition campaign that US and Iraqi officials say has so far been largely successful in uprooting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Mosul is by far the biggest city to have been held by Islamic State, and winning it back would largely destroy the Iraqi part of the group’s “caliphate,” proclaimed from a Mosul mosque in 2014.

There are mounting concerns about civilian casualties in the final phases of the assault and questions about how quickly Mosul can be rebuilt, repopulated and governed in a way that avoids alienating its Sunni-majority population. The Mosul battle, the biggest in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003, has been under way since October, with 100,000 Iraqi troops, Kurdish fighters and Shi’ite militiamen seeking to drive out the militants with the support of US-led air strikes. Although Trump campaigned on defeating the hardline Sunni militant group, he has not announced any major changes to war strategy and it is unclear how Kushner’s experience in Iraq might shape his advice to the president. Speaking after lengthy battlefield reports from Iraq’s military, Kushner sounded upbeat about the campaign and said the partnership between US and Iraqi troops was “very impressive.” He expressed hope the partnership would be enduring, signaling White House interest in longer-term US military assistance. “I hope the victory that you have in Mosul in the near future will not just be a victory for the American and Iraqi troops but it will be a victory for the world,” Kushner said. On Tuesday, Islamic State issued its first official remarks referring to Trump since he assumed the US presidency in January, describing him as an “idiot.”

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