BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide car bomber driving a military Humvee struck a checkpoint manned by Iraqi troops and pro-government Shiite militiamen south of Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 24 people, officials said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place on the outskirts of the Sunni town of Jurf al-Sakhar, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Baghdad, but the bombing bore all the hallmarks of the Islamic State group.
The IS militants lost control of the town only the previous day, when Iraqi soldiers and the Shiite militia retook Jurf al-Sakhar from the Sunni extremist group. The Islamic State group had seized the town in July, as part of its blitz earlier this year that captures large swaths of northern and western Iraq.
In Monday’s attack, the bomber rammed his explosives-laden Humvee into the checkpoint, killing at least 24 people and wounding 25, a police officer said. Most of those killed were members of the Shiite militia, he added.
Two medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.
In the wake of the IS group’s advances, Shiite militias in the country have answered the call by Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to join government forces in the fight against the Sunni extremists.
Jurf al-Sakhar is part of a predominantly Sunni ribbon of territory that runs just south of Baghdad and lies on a road usually taken by Shite pilgrims when they head in droves to the holy Shiite city of Karbala further to the south.
Pilgrims will be taking the route again next week in order to commemorate the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein — one of the most revered Shiite martyrs.
The shocking offensive by the Islamic State group, which captured not just territories in Iraq but also roughly a third of neighboring Syria, has plunged Iraq into its worst crisis since U.S. troops left at the end of 2011.
Since August, U.S. warplanes have been carrying out airstrikes against the group as Iraqi and Kurdish security forces work to retake territory it has seized.