Islamic State militants attacked Iraqi security forces on Friday near the two main cities of the western province of Anbar, where authorities plan a counter-offensive against the hardline Sunni insurgents, tribal sources said.
They said the militants attacked on two fronts near Khaldiya. The Euphrates river town lies next to a military base between the provincial capital Ramadi, seized by Islamic State in May, and their long-held bastion of Falluja. Shi'ite militia forces, who are leading the counter-attack against Islamic State in Anbar, and Iraqi security forces have been trying to encircle Falluja as the first stage of a military campaign to recapture the two cities.
Some of the heaviest fighting took place near the villages of Husaybah Sharqiya, Mudiq and Sidiqiya, which run along the southern bank of the river west of Khaldiya, the sources said. Internet photographs uploaded by Islamic State supporters and purporting to be of the fighting around Khaldiya showed several bloodied corpses and a black armored Humvee described as captured from security forces.
Anbar tribal sources said Islamic State fighters detonated a vehicle bomb at a military camp housing soldiers and fighters from the mainly Shi'ite Hashid Shaabi forces near Habbaniya. Another car bomb went off near Siddiqiya bridge, they said. Accurate casualty figures from the fighting are hard to establish, but hospital sources in Balad, north of the capital Baghdad, said on Friday they had received the bodies of 30 local Hashid Shaabi fighters which were returned after fighting in an area northeast of Falluja.
One of the fighters wounded in clashes said Islamic State fighters attacked with an explosives-laden tanker, and then followed up with sniper fire against survivors who were trying to rescue the wounded. "During this... a Humvee packed with explosives flanked us and caused heavy casualties," said the fighter, who identified himself only by his first name, Jaafar.
Further west in Haditha, which remains under government control despite attempted attacks by Islamic State, a local sheikh said 25 residents had been killed in four days. "We demand ammunition to be sent," Sheikh Naim al-Gaud said.
Islamic State fighters control most of Anbar and a large swathe of northern Iraq, captured in a rapid offensive in June last year. The hardline Islamist group's self-declared caliphate also extends into eastern Syria.