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Iraqi security forces killed in Islamic State attack, say police

Six Iraqi security personnel and three civilians dead after ambush north of Baghdad, as US announces further troop withdrawals
An Iraqi Hashed al-Shaabi fighter inspects the site of an IS attack on the paramilitary force in Mukaishefah, about 180km north of Baghdad, on 3 May 2020 (AFP)

Six Iraqi security personnel and three civilians were killed in an ambush on Saturday carried out by the Islamic State (IS) group north of Baghdad, police and a local official said.

A police source said a roadside bomb hit a car and that jihadists had opened fire on a rescue team of policemen and state-aligned paramilitary forces when they arrived at the scene, about 200km from the capital.

Four members of the Hashed al-Shaabi and two policemen died, along with three civilians, Mohammed Zidane, the mayor of Zouiya, 50km from the city of Tikrit, told AFP.

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There was no immediate word of casualties among the assailants. Zidane said that those killed among the Hashed, a coalition of mainly Shia forces, were Sunni tribesmen.

The mayor and police said the ambush was the work of IS, although there had been no immediate claim of responsibility.

On 8 November, 11 people had been killed in an IS attack on a lookout post at Al-Radwaniyah, near Baghdad airport, on the outskirts of the capital.

IS swept across a third of Iraq in 2014, seizing major cities across the north and west and reaching the suburbs of the capital. After a three-year fight, backed by a US-led military coalition, Iraq declared IS defeated in late 2017.

The coalition has significantly reduced its troop numbers this year. 

IS' sleeper cells have continued to wage hit-and-run attacks on security forces and state infrastructure, particularly in desert areas where troops are stretched thin. However, attacks with high death tolls and close to the capital have been rare.

Reduced troop numbers

The latest attacks come as the United States announced that it would withdraw another 500 troops, reducing its deployment to 2,500 soldiers. 

Most other countries contributing forces to the coalition have pulled out since the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The Iraqi government has "clearly indicated it wants to maintain its partnership with the United States and coalition forces as we continue to finish the fight against Isis [IS]", the US Middle East commander said on Thursday.

General Kenneth McKenzie estimated that IS still had around 10,000 supporters in the Iraq-Syria region and remained a real threat.

"The progress of the Iraqi Security Forces has allowed the United States to reduce force posture in Iraq," he said.

But US and coalition forces had to remain to help prevent IS from reconstituting as a cohesive group able to plot major attacks, he continued.