(MENAFN- Arab Times) Islamic State militants killed up to 50 soldiers in two separate ambushes in Iraq's turbulent Anbar province west of the capital, Baghdad, a top provincial official said Saturday. Sabah al-Karhout, president of the Anbar Provincial Council, told The Associated Press the ambushes took place Friday west of the provincial capital, Ramadi, but said he had no more details. There was no immediate word from federal authorities or the Islamic State group. The Islamic State group controls much of the vast Anbar province, including Ramadi and the city of Fallujah. Government forces and Shiite militiamen have been trying to dislodge Islamic State fighters from the province but they have been making slow progress.
They also have been coming mounting pressure in the oil refinery town of Beiji north of Baghdad, with Islamic State militants fighting their way toward the center of the town. Beiji was liberated from the extremists late last year. "The operations in Anbar are going according to plans, but progress is slow and the advances are halted by roadside bombs and booby-trapped buildings," al- Karhout said. Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi on Saturday toured the military's northern command in Anbar, according to a statement issued by his office. During a meeting with troops there, he counseled that forces there must use "caution and precision" when advancing to avoid "unjustified losses." Later, a statement posted on the ministry's official website said al-Obeidi on Saturday also fired the commander of a brigade deployed in Anbar as part of the 10th Mechanized Infantry Division.
It did not name the commander, but added that he failed to carry out his duties. "There is no place for those who neglect to carry out their missions and duties. Those who want victory must be on the front line," it quoted the minister as saying. It was not immediately clear whether the minister's visit and the firing were linked to the deadly ambushes. The Islamic State group controls about a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria and has established a self-declared "caliphate" across its territory. In scattered violence Saturday in Baghdad, three separate bombings killed at least eight people and wounded 23, said security and hospital officials who spoke condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists. Meanwhile, gunmen shot and wounded the Italian manager of a logistics company in the southern Iraqi oil city of Basra on Sunday, security officials and a company source said. Carlo Morandi from the Italian-Iraqi joint venture Sama Alimad was shot twice while withdrawing money from a bank and taken to hospital for surgery, but his injuries were not life-threatening, the officials said. Basra police spokesman Colonel Kareem al-Zaidi called the incident "criminal, not terrorist", and said Morandi had not been targeted as a foreigner. Iraq's southern regions, which produce some 90 percent of the country's oil, are far from areas of conflict with Islamic State militants in the north and west, but officials have warned production could be affected by protests in the area - a sign of the growing challenges facing foreign firms operating there. Islamic State group jihadists mutilated the body of a famed Syrian archaeologist after killing him execution-style in the ancient city of Palmyra last week, his family said Sunday. Khaled al-Assaad, Palmyra's antiquities chief for 50 years, was on Tuesday beheaded by IS militants who tied his body to a post before hanging it in the city's ruins, amid international outrage.
"Residents of Palmyra told me that IS had cut up my father's body into pieces," said Mohammad al-Assaad, one of Khaled's sons, said at a wake held Sunday at Damascus National Museum. "My father used to always say, 'I'll die standing up, like the palm tree of Palmyra,'" Mohammad told AFP. He added that despite threats from jihadists, his father had refused to leave Palmyra. Syria's national antiquities chief Mamoun Abdulkarim gave a similar account. "Khaled's cousins, who also work in antiquities, told me that the group removed his body from the pole and mutilated it," said Abdulkarim. Omar al-Assaad, another of Khaled's sons, said his father had attempted to hide from IS in Palmyra after the jihadists overran the city on May 21. But Khaled and his son Walid, the current head of antiquities in Palmyra, were detained by IS and questioned about stores of gold and artefacts.
Though they released them both after one week, the jihadists later recaptured the 82-year old chief archeologist. The family was shocked to see him dragged out to Palmyra's public square to be murdered, Omar said. The family fled to the governmentcontrolled city of Homs, and then on to Damascus. The killing is one of hundreds that have been carried out by IS in and around Palmyra, a UNESCO world heritage site famed for its well-preserved Greco- Roman ruins.
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