Iraqi airstrikes kill 9 suspected IS militants, including 4 Lebanese

Baghdad, Jan 30 (AP): Airstrikes north of Baghdad in retaliation for an attack by the Islamic State group on an Iraqi army barracks earlier this month killed nine suspected IS fighters, including four Lebanese, officials said Sunday.

IS gunmen in Iraq broke into a barracks in the mountainous al-Azim district outside the town of Baqouba on Jan. 21, killed a guard and shot dead 11 soldiers as they slept. It was one of the boldest attacks by the militants in recent weeks and came amid an uptick in violence that stoked fears the group has been re-energized.

Yehia Rasool, the spokesman for Iraq’s commander in chief, said the joint military operations room and the air force identified the cell behind the attack as its members hid in al-Azim.

Three airstrikes were launched that killed the nine militants, he said.

A security official told The Associated Press that four among the killed were Lebanese, natives of the northern town of Tripoli. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Tripoli is Lebanon’s second largest city and the country’s most impoverished. It has been prone to violence and militants who, inspired by the Islamic State group, launched attacks against Lebanon’s army in 2014 in the most serious bout of violence in the city. As Lebanon faces an unprecedented convergence of crises, including a swift descent into poverty, many fear militants may seek to exploit discontent among the city’s majority Sunni residents.

IS was largely defeated in Iraq in 2017. The group was dealt a final blow in 2019 when it lost its last territory in southeast Syria during the U.S.-led military campaign in cooperation with Syrian Kurdish-led forces.

But thousands of militants melted into the desert and have continued to wage attacks, frequently hitting security forces and military with roadside bombs and firing on military convoys or checkpoints in both countries.