BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An Islamic State militant blew up an explosive-laden bulldozer near Haditha, killing seven Iraqi soldiers in one of a wave of bomb attacks on the northwestern town on Monday, a police source said.
Haditha and its nearby dam lie in one of the few parts of the huge western province of Anbar still under the control of Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government forces, which were driven out of the provincial capital Ramadi in May.
Security services said they fired on and destroyed four other vehicles believed to be rigged with explosives near the town, before they could reach their targets. The coordinated assault reflected an escalation of Islamic State operations in the final days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
In a statement two weeks ago, Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammad Adnani called for increased attacks during Ramadan, and specifically mentioned Haditha.
A car bomb also exploded on Monday in the town of Jubba, about 30 km (20 miles) southeast of Haditha, close to the Ain al-Asad air base where U.S. forces have been training Sunni Muslim fighters from Anbar to take on Islamic State.
A police source said seven soldiers were killed.
The Sunni Muslim province of Anbar is a stronghold of the Islamic State militants who control swathes of Iraq and Syria, including the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa, capital of their self-declared caliphate.
In Iraq, the Islamist militants have been driven out of the city of Tikrit and eastern province of Diyala, but have launched repeated strikes to retake lost ground in the refinery town of Baiji, north of Tikrit.
Army troops and fighters from the mainly Shi’ite Muslim Hashd Shaabi militias - backed by a U.S.-led air campaign - have stepped up their counter-offensive in Anbar, cutting off a northern supply route to Islamic State-held Falluja as they tighten an attempted siege of the city, just 40 km (25 miles) west of Baghdad.
A security source in Anbar said security forces recaptured a bridge north of Ramadi on Monday in an attack which killed 14 Islamic State fighters.
In northeast Iraq, Islamic State fighters launched an attack early on Monday against Kurdish peshmerga forces in the village of Murah, near the city of Kirkuk. A Kurdish police officer said peshmerga fighters, backed by air strikes, repelled the attack at around dawn after five hours of fighting.
A statement issued in the name Islamic State said the Islamists had taken one peshmerga fighter prisoner, showing a photograph of a man with blood spattered on his shirt and face.
Kurdish forces later drove around with the bodies of dead militants splayed on the bonnets of their armored vehicles.
Reporting by Saif Hameed in Baghdad and Isabel Coles in Erbil; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Andrew heavens