Security forces in Iraq have overcome a major assault by "Islamic State" in Kirkuk, killing 48 of the militants. The advance comes amid claims of a mass grave found outside the city of Mosul, which is still held by IS.
"Islamic State" fighters reportedly killed 284 men and boys as Iraqi-led coalition forces closed in on Mosul, according to an anonymous source quoted by US broadcaster CNN.
Killed on Thursday and Friday, the civilians were being used by IS as human shields, the source said, adding that the bodies were bulldozed into a mass grave after being shot. CNN said it could not confirm the intelligence source's statements.
Elsewhere in Iraq, government forces killed 48 IS operatives in Kirkuk, Brigadier General Khattab Omar Aref said on Saturday. Some of the IS militants blew themselves up when they were cornered by police, he added.
Security officials said at least 46 other people were killed and over 100 people wounded. Officials called for blood donations to help the wounded and injured.
Iraqi state television reported that security forces had regained full control of the Kurdish-majority city.
"The security forces control the situation now, but there are still pockets of jihadists in some southern and eastern neighborhoods, Aref said. "We have foiled this large [IS] plot, which was to take control of government buildings, including security headquarters...They were denied just like they are being defeated on the outskirts of Mosul."
Counterterrorism and intelligence units continued hunting down IS fighters who had stormed public buildings early on Friday. The city was caught off-guard when the IS launched an "inghimasi" attack, which refers to jihadi operations in which suicide bombers intend to unleash chaos more than achieving any political gain.
Carter in Baghdad
Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter arrived in Baghdad on Saturday to review the offensive on Mosul, where IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the caliphate in 2014. Carter was also scheduled to meet commanders from the 60-member coalition and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi regarding the operation in Mosul.
Suggesting there was little doubt that the mission would succeed, Carter said, "There will be a big job of reconstruction and stabilization." He said it was important that efforts to rebuild the city did not fall behind once the IS was ousted. The US official was also expected to convince the Iraqi government to let Turkey participate in the Mosul offensive.
Ankara and Baghdad have been arguing over the presence of Turkish troops at the Bashiqa camp near Mosul, where it trains soldiers. Iraq is skeptical of Turkey's presence in Mosul, which was part of the Ottoman Empire and which Ankara considers under its sphere of influence. On Saturday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim stressed that his country would continue to have a presence in the area.
Mosul is the most populous city under IS control and losing it would deal a huge blow to the militants. At least 3,000 to 4,500 Iraqi troops, backed by US military forces on the ground and in the air are participating in the offensive, which was launched on Monday.
But the jihadis' suicide attacks have made progress difficult. On Saturday, Iraqi soldiers moved into Qaraqosh, Iraq's largest Christian town before the IS took over Mosul last year.
At least 1.2 million civilians are trapped in the city and aid organizations expect that hundreds of thousands could flee in the coming weeks, sparking Iraq's worst humanitarian crisis in years.
mg/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)