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IS claims shooting down of Iraqi army plane near Kirkuk

Officials say the light aircraft came down due to a 'technical problem,' with five crew members reported dead
The Cessna 208 plane came down near to where Iraqi forces are planning a fresh offensive (AFP)

An Iraqi army plane crashed during a reconnaissance flight near the city of Kirkuk on Wednesday and its three member crew went missing, a high-ranking military source said, blaming a "technical problem".

Islamic State (IS) militants claimed they had shot down an Iraqi military plane in the area, killing five crew members.

The military source said authorities had launched a search for the crew after the Cessna 208 Caravan went down near Kirkuk.

A video clip that Middle East Eye could not independently verify circulated on social media last on Wednesday, appearing to show the plane being shot down.

In a statement circulated on Twitter, IS said it had shot down a military plane with anti-aircraft weaponry.

According to the IS statement, the plane had been on a bombing run over the city of Hawija, a stronghold of the militants in Kirkuk province.

The group also published photographs claiming to show residents of Hawija celebrating the plane crash.

Push against IS

Iraqi forces have been making gains against IS in recent months as they seek to reclaim territory seized by the group during a major offensive in 2014.

The Iraqi armed forces are preparing to launch a fresh attempt to take back IS-held areas of Kirkuk province.

Pressure for the renewed offensive mounted last week after a chemical attack was launched from the nearby village of Bashir.

The suspected mustard agent attack on the Kurdish-controlled town of Taza killed a three-year-old girl and left hundreds of people complaining of burns and respiratory problems.

The town's residents have demanded government action to retake Bashir, which is visible from the main road between Baghdad and Kirkuk, but has remained in IS hands since 2014.

Military coordination between the Kurdish peshmerga fighters and the government-allied Shia Turkmen militia groups that also operate in the area has been difficult, slowing any operation against the militants.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has responded by promising that an operation against Bashir would get under way soon.

A senior military official in Kirkuk said that such an operation would further increase the pressure on Hawija, which is IS's main remaining hub east of the Tigris.