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Middle East

Suicide attackers strike in northern Iraq as Mosul advance slowly edges forward

Suicide bombers driving ambulances packed with explosives detonated their vehicles killing at least 19 people. This comes as Iraqi government troops struggle to penetrate the "Islamic State" stronghold of Mosul.

Provincial spokesman Ali al-Hamdani said Sunday that a suicide bomb attack on a security checkpoint in Tikrit during rush hour traffic killed at least 11 people. He added that 100 other people were wounded in the attack.   

A carpark for Shiite pilgrims visiting one of Islam's holiest shrines, al-Askari mosque in Samarra, south of Tikrit, was also attacked. The bomb left at least eight people dead, local officials said, including two Iranian pilgrims. The vehicle used in the attack was also an ambulance, the local operation command, a joint military and police unit, said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blasts, but "Islamic State" (IS) militants have claimed multiple similar attacks since they were expelled from Tikrit in April 2015.

This comes as Iraqi special forces slowly clear neighborhoods retaken from the IS group along Mosul's eastern edge. Both sides fired mortars and small arms in close quarters while the Iraqi troops also responded with artillery. Snipers dueled from rooftops in residential areas.

Lt. Colonel Muhanad al-Timimi said Sunday that elaborate defenses built by IS and the presence of civilians on the ground have slowed progress as troops are hesitant to call in air strikes from their allies in the US-led military coalition. "There are a lot of civilians and we are trying to protect them," al-Timimi said. "This is one of the hardest battles that we've faced till now."

Iraqi forces first entered the eastern edge of the city last week. Forces began pushing into Mosul proper on Friday, but so far have only advanced just over a kilometer (half a mile) into the city. IS fighters repulsed special forces troops from the southern edge of the Gogjali neighborhood on Saturday, where the troops had made their first major foray into the city itself after more than two weeks of fighting in its rural outskirts.

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jar/jlw (AP, Reuters)

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