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More than 700 Peshmerga killed since June: KRG ministry

Kurdish President Barzani said their conflict with the Islamic State group will not impede moves to seek an independent Kurdistan
A Peshmerga fighter stands behind a berm as other fighters cross a bridge (AFP)

More than 700 Iraqi Kurdish troops have died since joining the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in June, according to a statement released on Wednesday by the Peshmerga ministry of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq.

727 Peshmerga fighters, including “officers, non-commissioned officers, members of the Asayish (intelligence agency), of the police and some Peshmerga veterans,” have died and 3,564 have been wounded fighting IS, who seized control of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in June.

34 Peshmerga fighters are also still reported as missing.

Jabbar Yawar, the Peshmerga ministry's secretary general, told AFP that out of the Iraqi Kurds who had joined the battle against IS fighters in the Syrian border town of Kobane, only 11 had been wounded and none killed.

Wednesday’s statement lauded the fighters’ gains in Iraq.

"Peshmerga forces have succeeded in pushing IS away from several Kurdistan regions and in transitioning from a defensive to an offensive phase," it said.

On Wednesday, KRG President Massoud Barzani pledged to continue the region's independence referendum bid despite threats posed by IS.

Massoud Barzani's remarks came during a meeting with his Peshmerga commanders that returned from Kobane last week.

"We will not step back from this bid," Barzani said.

He added that IS had failed to seize Kurdish regions outside the control of his regional government.

Shiite militias killed

A suicide car bomb killed nine Shiite militiamen in an attack near the Iraqi city of Tikrit on Wednesday, army and hospital sources said.

The suicide attacker rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a gathering of Shiite fighters around 20 kilometres south of Tikrit.

An army lieutenant colonel said nine of the Shiite volunteers were killed and 13 other people were wounded, including five civilians.

A medical source in Samarra, further south, confirmed the toll.

The past few days have seen a surge in violence south of Tikrit and around Samarra between pro-government forces and IS.

While the Iraqi army has battled IS militants in the western and northern provinces of Iraq, other areas of the country have been the target of relentless IS bombing campaigns, assassinations and attacks against civilians and security personnel.

Joint operations by the army, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militia groups have, with Iranian backing, squeezed IS fighters out of some of their positions in eastern Iraq.

The group, who hold Tikrit and have positions around Samarra, have launched numerous attacks around both cities to maintain pressure on pro-government forces.

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