BAGHDAD — Islamic State militants ambushed a group of Iraq’s Shiite-led paramilitary fighters, killing at least 27, officials said Monday, underlining the extremis group’s capabilities of launching large-scale attacks two months after Baghdad declared victory over IS in all of Iraq.
The Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of mostly Shiite militias, said in a statement that the attack took place in the al-Saadounya area, southwest of the northern city of Kirkuk, when the paramilitaries were conducting overnight raids.
The attackers were disguised in army uniforms and pretended to man a fake checkpoint, the statement said, adding that ensuing clashes lasted for at least two hours and that some of the militants were killed while others fled the area.
Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, a spokesman for Iraqi military, blamed IS “sleeper cells” and said Iraqi forces were searching the area to find the perpetrators.
IS claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on its Aamaq news agency.
Karim al-Nouri, a PMF spokesman, described the attack as a “heinous crime” and called for thorough scrutiny for those returning to their liberated areas.
On December, Iraq declared total victory over IS in all of Iraq, after more than three years of fighting, dislodging the militants from all areas they controlled during their 2014 blitz. But Iraqi and U.S. officials have warned IS would continue with insurgent-style attacks.
Last month, IS launched back-to-back suicide bombings targeting labourers and street vendors in central Baghdad, killing at least 38 people.
Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.