Tribal sources have said that militants from Islamic State have attacked Iraqi troops on Friday near the two main cities of Anbar province, where authorities plan to conduct a counter-offensive against the Sunni insurgents.
They claimed that the militants conducted attacks on two fronts near the Euphrates river town of Khaldiya, which lies next to a military base between the provincial capital of Ramadi, overridden by Islamic State in May, and their long-held station in Falluja.
Iraqi security forces, along with the Shiite militia leading the offensive against Islamic State in Anbar, have been attempting to surround Falluja as part of its first stage in reclaiming the two captured cities. According to sources, some of the heaviest skirmishes took place near the villages of Husaybah Sharqiya, Mudiq and Sidiqiya, which run along the southern bank of the river west of Khaldiya.
Photographs uploaded on the internet by Islamic State show a number of bloodied corpses as well as a black armored Humvee which they claim were captured from security forces.
Tribal sources in Anbar further elaborate the Islamic State fighters detonated a vehicle bomb near Habbaniya targeting a military camp holding soldiers and fighters from the predominantly Shi’ite Hashid Shaabi forces, with another going off near Siddiqiya bridge.
Solid figures estimating the number of deaths are difficult to establish, but hospital sources in Balad, north of the capital Baghdad, claimed on Friday that 30 bodies belonging to local Hashid Shaabi fighters were taking in after fighting in an area north-east of Falluja.
One of the fighters wounded in the clashes said Islamic State fighters ambushed security forces with a tanker filled with explosives which were then followed by sniper fire against survivors who were trying to rescue the wounded.
The fighter, who identified himself only by his first name, Jafar, said: “During this… a Humvee packed with explosives flanked us and caused heavy casualties.”
Towards the west in Haditha, which is still under government control despite attempts by Islamic State to take it, a local sheikh said 25 residents had died in four days. “We demand ammunition to be sent,” Sheikh Naim al-Gaud said.
Islamic State fighters control the vast majority of Anbar province and a large swathe of northern Iraq, captured after a rapid offensive last June. The hardline Islamist group’s self-declared caliphate also reaches into eastern Syria.