BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Car bombs exploded at three checkpoints on the western outskirts of Iraq's holy city of Samarra on Thursday, killing three people and wounding 41 others, a security official and locals said.
Samarra in central Iraq, 125 km (80 miles) north of Baghdad, is home to a significant Shi'ite shrine and has been under attack since Islamic State militants swept through most Sunni areas north of the capital in June.
The three bombs before sunrise on Thursday killed a civilian and two policemen as well as wounding dozens of others, and were followed by a hail of rocket and mortar fire, the official said.
Then, after several hours of fighting with security forces, gunmen retreated under fire from Iraqi warplanes, he said.
The blowing up of the ninth century al-Askari shrine in Sunni-majority Samarra in February 2006 by Sunni jihadists triggered revenge attacks by Shi'ite militias, tipping Iraq into years of sectarian violence.
Islamic State adopts a puritanical interpretation of Sunni Islam and considers tombs sacrilegious. It has also destroyed shrines in areas of eastern and northern Syria that it controls.
On Thursday, al Qadea-linked Nusra Front militants blew up the 13th century tomb of a revered Islamic scholar in southern Syria, Syrian state news agency SANA and monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported.
(Reporting by Saif Hameed; Writing by Ned Parker; Editing by Louise Ireland)