At least 31 people were killed, including 14 police officers, and more than 40 wounded in attacks overnight by Daesh militants in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, security and medical sources said on Wednesday.
The militants wore federal police uniforms and used a police vehicle to enter the city, located 175 kilometres north of Baghdad, police Colonel Khalid Mahmoud told Reuters. He said there were around ten attackers, including two suicide bombers.
A total of 31 bodies were taken to hospital, including 14 belonging to policemen, said Nawfal Mustafa, a doctor at the city’s main hospital. The death toll rose in the morning as more bodies were found, belonging to civilians killed in their shops.
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 still in hiding and Mahmoud said Tikrit authorities had declared a curfew on Wednesday. Sporadic gunfire could be heard in the morning.
The attacks come as a US and Iran-backed offensive is underway to dislodge Daesh from the remaining districts under its control in Mosul, 225 kilometres away, the group’s last major urban stronghold in Iraq.
Since the Mosul offensive began on 17 October last year, Daesh has launched numerous surprise attacks and raids against towns and cities that were previously thought to have been secured by government forces. These include towns in the western Anbar province, Diyala, Kirkuk and Salahuddin.
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 Shia jihadists drove the militants away from Tikrit two years ago, but also committed human rights abuses and violations that could amount to war crimes, such as executing Sunni civilians during their assault against Daesh.
Tikrit is the hometown of Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi president toppled in the 2003 US-led illegal invasion of Iraq.