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Iraqi military reach Baiji, IS chief Baghdadi's fate remains unclear

Iraqi military forces have reached the centre of the northern city of Baiji in an effort to break an Islamic State siege of the country's biggest refinery, triggering fierce clashes with the militants, according to an army colonel and a witness.

Separately, contradictory reports emerged over the fate of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. after US-led air strikes against the group in at least two locations in Iraq on Friday night.

The United States said it had no information to indicate Baghdadi had been hit, but a report on Iraqi state television said he had been wounded.

Baghdadi's fighters seized much of northern Iraq five months ago in a lightning offensive which also saw them capture the city of Baiji and surround its oil refinery, halting production there and besieging a detachment of government troops there.

The colonel said Iraqi troops entered Baiji, a city of about 200,000 people, from the south and west and took over the al-Tamim neighbourhood and city centre.

Islamic State had placed bombs along roads in Baiji and deployed snipers to keep government forces from advancing, tactics used in other cities held by the ultra-hardline Sunni group, which controls swathes of both Iraq and Syria.

"There are IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and snipers that are slowing down the advance, but the presence of the air force has facilitated the process of dismantling the IEDs in order to push forward," said the colonel.

"The areas taken so far are 6 km (4 miles) away from Baiji's refinery," he added. He said 12 militants had been killed.

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Tags:  Iraq  Islamic State  US  fighting  





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