In their largest assault in Iraq for months, the Islamic State militants attacked the country’s security forces on the western outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday . The two suicide blasts in the mainly Shi’ite district of Sadr City, killed 31 people. According to the officials, 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.
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 centre of Baghdad and next to the international airport.
Recently, Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have driven Islamic State back 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.
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.
Meanwhile the Iraqi army helicopters began bombarding Islamic State positions in the silo and the cemetery as a part of counter offensive strategy, a military statement said. Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan said at least 20 militants had been killed so far in the government’s counter offensive.
Fighters from the Hashid Shaabi, a coalition of mainly Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, were mobilised to Abu Ghraib to reinforce regular government forces in the area, said Jawad al-Tulaibawi, a local Hashid commander.
Powerful Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr also called on fighters loyal to him to be on alert to protect Baghdad. Shi’ite militias like Sadr’s ‘Peace Brigades’ were seen as a bulwark against Islamic State’s sweeping advance in 2014 which threatened Iraq’s capital and its most sacred Shi’ite shrines.