The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham seized control of several neighborhoods in the central Iraqi city of Samarra during an assault launched earlier today.
Over 150 ISIS fighters entered the city on pickup trucks mounted with antiaircraft guns and attacked police forces in eastern Samarra, according to news reports. At least six policemen were killed and dozens more were wounded during the fighting. One unconfirmed report indicated that 38 policemen were killed.
The ISIS has taken control of the neighborhoods of al Muthana, al Jubairiya, Salah al Din, and al Shuhda, and “parts of the al Khadhra,” according to Ammon News.
Police forces retreated to protect other areas of the city, including the al Askaria Mosque, one of the most holy shrines in Shia Islam. Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the ISIS, bombed the Golden Dome of the al Askaria Mosque in February 2006, sparking sectarian fighting between Iraq’s Shia and Sunnis.
Iraqi warplanes are reported to be targeting ISIS units in Samarra, but there are no reports on the number of ISIS casualties.
Samarra was a major hub for al Qaeda in Iraq between 2005 and 2007. Samarra also served as a base for al Furqan, the group’s media operation, before US special operations forces heavily targeted its cells in the city in 2007. Top al Qaeda in Iraq leaders have been killed in the city in the past.
Samarra is the latest Iraqi city to fall under full or partial control of the ISIS. The ISIS, along with anti-government tribes, remains in control of Fallujah after taking over the city in early January.
The ISIS also controls other towns and rural areas in Anbar. Two days ago, the Iraqi military launched an offensive to recapture the town of Saqlawiyah. The results of the operation have not been disclosed.
The ISIS has been able to display its military power in Anbar. In late March, the ISIS paraded scores of vehicles and hundreds of fighters from Fallujah to Abu Ghraib, a city just miles outside of Baghdad. The parade was held in daylight, and Iraqi forces did not attempt to attack the ISIS column.
The ISIS was al Qaeda’s official branch in Iraq before a dispute with another branch in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front, led al Qaeda’s General Command to disown the ISIS earlier this year. While the ISIS has lost territory in Syria due to fighting with Al Nusrah and other groups in Syria, it has continued to expand areas under its control in Iraq.