Three Kurdish troops were killed and 14 wounded in two separate incidents in eastern Iraq, where Sunni-led insurgents are pressing on with a campaign to widen territorial gains, local media reported Sunday.
Three members of the Peshmerga - the official military forces of the autonomous region of Kurdistan - were killed and 12 injured overnight when two mortar shells fell on their security checkpoints in the town of Saadia, said Ibrahim Baylan, an official in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. It was not clear if the shells were fired by fighters from the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria (ISIS) or government troops trying to halt the insurgents' advances.
Bajlan told independent site Alsumaria News that two Peshmerga personnel were wounded in a mistaken strike by an Iraqi helicopter also in Saadi, about 100 kilometers north-east of the capital Baghdad. The insurgents' blitz in Iraq has prompted the Peshmerga to control several areas at the center of a dispute with the federal government. They include the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
Earlier this week, militants from al-Qaida offshoot ISIS captured the northern province of Nineveh and swathes of the province of Salah al-Din further south, raising international fears that Iraq is falling apart. Troops loyal to Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said they had launched a counter offensive and regained in the past two days some areas from the radical Sunni group.
Iraq has seen increasing violence over the last year, much of it blamed on ISIS and aimed at security forces and Shiite civilians. The Shiite-led government's response, with security sweeps and mass arrests, has alienated Iraq's Sunni minority from which ISIS and other rebel groups draw their support.
The United States said Saturday it had dispatched an aircraft carrier to the Gulf.
The relocation of the USS George HW Bush will give President Barack Obama additional flexibility if military options are required to protect US citizens and interests in Iraq, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. All US troops were pulled out of Iraq in late 2011 after an eight-year occupation following the US-led 2003 invasion.
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