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IS Attacks Iraq Base Housing US Personnel

by Edward Yeranian February 13, 2015

Iraqi forces have repelled an attack by Islamic State militants on an airbase in Anbar province where more than 300 U.S. military personnel are stationed to train Iraqi Sunni tribal fighters.

'The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) supported by Coalition surveillance assets defeated the attack, killing all eight attackers,' a U.S. military statement said. 'The ISF have since re-secured their facility. Coalition forces were several kilometers from the attack and at no stage were they under direct threat from this action.'

The strategic Ain al Assad airbase, 35 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital of Ramadi had been surrounded by IS militants for weeks.

Iraqi media reported that the militants fired a wave of Katyusha rockets and mortar rounds before the suicide bombers attacked the base. An Iraqi Army official said the attackers didn't penetrate the base perimeter.

Islamic State militants and other extremist groups are increasingly using multiple suicide attacks to breach base defenses in both Iraq and Syria. IS previously attempted to blow through the outer walls of a Syrian government airbase in Deir ez Zor, but without success.

Ra'ed Amash of the Anbar Provincial Council said a bloody battle was being fought in the nearby town of al Baghdadi, 15 kilomters north of the military airbase.

He said the militants tried to infiltrate the town via the river, taking advantage of cloud cover and bad weather. While they captured a number of buildings in the town, he said they met fierce resistance from local residents and were eventually pushed back.

Some Arab and Iraqi media reported that "dozens of Islamic State militants were killed in the attack" and that "bodies of militants were lying in the streets" of the town. VOA could not independently confirm the report.

The head of the Anbar Council, Sabah al Karhout, warned that hundreds of refugees from outlying regions now live in al Baghdadi in grim conditions. He said the militants' siege is preventing food and fuel from reaching the town. He complained of similar conditions in Haditha, near Iraq's second largest dam.

Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris said he thinks former officers from ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's military forces were playing a major role in the battle in the area near the Ain al Assad airbase.

He told VOA that former Iraqi officers are leading Islamic State fighting in parts of Anbar Province. Despite recent attacks in places like Tikrit and Beiji, he conjectured that their real goal may be to surround and capture U.S. forces at the Ain al Assad base.

Abou Diab pointed out that Iraqi Shi'ite lawmakers are continuing to block a bill in parliament to set up a national guard in Anbar Province and elsewhere. He insisted that intransigence from hardline Shi'ite political leaders is hindering U.S. efforts to combat Islamic State in Anbar.

VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.

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