KIRKUK: Suicide bombings claimed by the Daesh group killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 50 in two cities north of Baghdad on Sunday, officials said.
One bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle at the southern entrance to Tikrit, while another other blew up an ambulance at a car park in Samarra, possibly in concert with a third bomber.
The Tikrit attack killed at least 15 people and wounded at least 33, while at least 10 died and at least 25 were wounded in Samarra, security and medical officials said.
Iranian pilgrims were among the victims in Samarra, which is home to a major Shiite shrine that was bombed in 2006.
Daesh issued a statement claiming Sunday’s attacks, but said there were three suicide bombers: two who struck Samarra and the third who attacked Tikrit.
Media could not verify the authenticity of the statement, which was posted on a militant website commonly used by the extremists.
A police lieutenant colonel also said there was a second bomber who attacked the car park in Samarra, but other sources only mentioned one in the city.
The Daesh statement identified two of the bombers as “Al Moslawi” -- a nom de guerre that would indicate they were from Mosul, though it could be a propaganda attempt to link militants from other areas with the ongoing battle for Iraq’s second city.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, condemned the two attacks, which he said had killed 21 people, including 10 Iranian pilgrims, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the conflicting tolls.
In the capital, Baghdad, a series of smaller bombings killed at least 10 people and wounded 21 others, according to police and medical officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief reporters. No one immediately claimed the Baghdad attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of Daesh.
Meanwhile, Iraqi forces battled militants inside Mosul for the third day running on Sunday while civilians risked their lives dodging bombs and snipers to slip out of the city.
The Daesh group put up fierce resistance to defend the city it seized more than two years ago and also claimed responsibility for deadly suicide attacks further south.
The elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) has been spearheading the attack on the eastern front of the three-week-old offensive on Mosul, Iraq’s largest military operation in years.
“Our forces are continuing to clear neighbourhoods including Al Samah, Karkukli, Al Malayeen and Shaqaq Al Khadra,” CTS Staff Lieutenant General Abdelghani al-Assadi said.
“Resistance is very heavy and they have suffered major losses,” Assadi said of Daesh.
Soldiers from the army’s 9th armoured division also battled militants in the southeastern neighbourhood of Intisar, a correspondent reported, as forces attempted to increase their footprint in eastern Mosul.
Abu Sara dodged gunfire, bombs, mortar rounds and coalition strikes to flee his neighbourhood of Al Samah, such was his desperation to leave what many civilians who escaped IS rule describe as an open-air prison.
“We walked several miles, taking with us only the clothes we were wearing and white flags we waved the entire way,” said the 34-year-old, wearing a brown fake leather jacket.
The militants have given up some of its bastions in Iraq and Syria with barely a fight in recent months but its men began the defence of their last Iraqi hub with anger.
They first entered the streets of Mosul on Friday and were met with what one officer described as stiffer than expected resistance from Daesh militants.
The assault allowed some civilians to flee the city, most of whose million-plus residents remained trapped inside, sheltering both from their militant rulers and incoming fire from government forces and US-led coalition aircraft.
Some of the first civilians to manage to escape the city proper arrived at a camp near Khazir in Kurdish-controlled territory on Saturday.
While the corridors called for by aid groups to allow the safe passage of civilians have yet to materialise, arrivals in the displacement camps dotting the area have increased markedly.
The government said it had taken in 9,000 displaced people in the past two days.