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US airstrikes target ISIS convoy in Iraq - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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An image from a propaganda video by Al-Furqan Media allegedly shows the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, on July 5, 2014. (AFP Photo/HO/Al-Furqan Media)

An image from a propaganda video by Al-Furqan Media allegedly shows the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, on July 5, 2014. (AFP Photo/HO/Al-Furqan Media)

Baghdad and Washington Reuters—US airstrikes destroyed an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) convoy near the Iraqi city of Mosul but US officials said on Saturday it was unclear whether the group’s top commander Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi had been in any of the 10 targeted vehicles.

Colonel Patrick Ryder, a Central Command spokesman, said the US military had reason to believe that the convoy was carrying leaders of ISIS, an Al-Qaeda offshoot which controls large chunks of Iraq and Syria.

The convoy consisted of 10 ISIS armed trucks.

“I can confirm that coalition aircraft did conduct a series of airstrikes yesterday evening in Iraq against what was assessed to be a gathering of ISIL leaders near Mosul,” said Ryder, using another name for ISIS.

“We cannot confirm if ISIL leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was among those present.”

ISIS had been changing its strategy since the airstrikes began, switching to lower profile vehicles to avoid being targeted, according to residents of towns the group holds.

A Mosul morgue official said 50 bodies of ISIS militants were brought to the facility after the airstrike.

Mosul, northern Iraq’s biggest city, was overrun on June 10 in an offensive that saw vast parts of Iraq’s Sunni regions fall to ISIS and allied groups.

A month later a video posted online purported to show the reclusive Baghdadi preaching at Mosul’s grand mosque.

Earlier on Saturday, Al-Hadath television channel said US-led airstrikes targeted a gathering of ISIS leaders in a town near the Syrian border, possibly including Baghdadi.

Iraqi security officials were not immediately available for comment on the report from the station, part of Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television, but two witnesses told Reuters an airstrike targeted a house where senior ISIS officers were meeting, near the western Iraqi border town of Al-Qaim.

Al-Hadath said dozens of people were killed and wounded in the strike in Al-Qaim, and that Baghdadi’s fate was unclear.

Mahmoud Khalaf, a member of Anbar’s Provincial Council, also said there were airstrikes in Al-Qaim. He gave no details.

The US-led coalition carried out airstrikes near Al-Qaim overnight, destroying an ISIS armored vehicle and two checkpoints run by the group, Ryder said.

The hard-line Sunni Islamic State’s drive to form a caliphate has helped return sectarian violence in Iraq to the dark days of 2006-2007, the peak of its civil war.

It has also created a cross-border sanctuary for Arab militants, as well as foreign fighters whose passports could allow them to evade detection in Western airports.

On Saturday night a car bomb killed eight people in Baghdad’s mostly Shi’ite Sadr City, police and hospital sources said, bringing to 28 the day’s toll from bombs in the Iraqi capital and the western city of Ramadi.

An attack by a suicide bomber on a checkpoint in Ramadi in Anbar killed five soldiers. “Before the explosion, the checkpoint was targeted with several mortar rounds. Then the suicide humvee bomber attacked it,” said a police official.

There was no claim of responsibility for the bombings, but they resembled operations carried out by Islamist militants.

In the town of Baquba, 40 miles (65 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, a gunman killed a Shi’ite militiaman, and a car bomb targeting a police officer killed his 10-year-old son, security sources said.

Western and Iraqi officials say airstrikes are not enough to defeat the Sunni insurgents and Iraq must improve the performance of its security forces to eliminate the threat.

President Barack Obama has approved sending up to 1,500 more troops to Iraq, roughly doubling the number of US forces on the ground, to advise and retrain Iraqis.

The Iraqi prime minister’s media office said the additional US trainers were welcome but the move, five months after ISIS seized much of northern Iraq, was belated, state television reported.

The United States spent 25 billion US dollars on the Iraqi military during the US occupation that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 and triggered an insurgency that included Al-Qaeda.

Washington wants Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government to revive an alliance with Sunni tribesmen in Anbar province which helped US Marines defeat Al-Qaeda.

Such an alliance would face a more formidable enemy in ISIS, which has more firepower and funding, and it may not be possible because of mistrust between Sunni tribes of Anbar and the Baghdad government.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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