US jets after receiving fuel over northern Iraq..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US-led air strikes have targeted a gathering of Islamic State leaders in Iraq in a town near the Syrian border, possibly including the group's top commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Al-Hadath television channel said on Saturday.
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 air strike targeted a house where senior Islamic State officers were meeting, near the western Iraqi border town of al-Qaim.
They said Islamic State fighters had evacuated a hospital so that their wounded could be treated. Residents said there were unconfirmed reports that Islamic State's local leader in the western Iraqi province of Anbar and his deputy were killed.
US officials would not confirm or deny if Baghdadi, the group's overall leader, had been targeted.
One US official said that air strikes were carried out against a convoy near the northern city of Mosul and against small Islamic State units elsewhere, but the US-led air strikes had not targeted an Islamic State gathering.
Al-Hadath said dozens of people were killed and wounded in the strike, which it said took place in al-Qaim, and that Baghdadi's fate was unclear.
Al-Qaim and its neighboring Syrian counterpart Albukamal are on a strategic supply route.
The report came hours after car bombs killed 20 people, including five soldiers, in the Iraqi capital and the city of Ramadi to the west on Saturday, police and medical sources said, in attacks that resembled operations carried out by Islamic State militants.
Two bombs exploded in separate attacks in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite Amil district, said a police source.
"A driver parked his car and went to a cigarette stall, then he disappeared. Then his car blew up, killing passers-by," said the police source, describing one of the two attacks in Amil.
In the mostly Shi'ite al-Amin area of Baghdad, another car bomb killed eight people, medical sources said.
The attack by a suicide bomber on a checkpoint in Ramadi in western Anbar province 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. "Some troops came to the scene. They were attacked by mortars. A confrontation took place for one hour."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings.
The ultra-hardline Sunni Islamic State's drive to create a caliphate in Iraq has helped return sectarian violence to the dark days of 2006-2007, the peak of a civil war.
In the town of Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) 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 US-led air strikes are not enough to defeat the al Qaeda offshoot, which holds parts of Iraq and Syria and is fighting to expand what it calls a caliphate.
Iraq must improve the performance of its army and security forces in order to eliminate the threat from the group, which wants to redraw the map of the Middle East, the officials say.
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 in their battle against Islamic State.
The Iraqi prime minister's media office said the additional US trainers were welcome but the move came late, state television reported.
The United States spent $25 billion on the Iraqi military during the US occupation that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, and triggered an insurgency that included al-Qaida.
Washington wants Iraq's Shi'ite-led government to revive an alliance with Sunni tribesmen in Anbar province which helped US Marines defeat al-Qaida.
Such an alliance would face a more formidable enemy in Islamic State, which has more firepower and funding.
Police Colonel Shaaban Barazan al-Ubaidi, commander of a rapid reaction force in Anbar, said security forces retook eight villages. His account could not be immediately confirmed.