The Latest: 250 treated for exposure to sulfur plant smoke

AP News
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Posted: Oct 22, 2016 2:07 PM
The Latest: 250 treated for exposure to sulfur plant smoke

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Latest on developments in Iraq where Iraqi forces and their allies launched a major offensive this week to retake Mosul, the country's second-largest city from the Islamic State group (all times local):

9 p.m.

An emergency hospital south of the Iraqi city of Mosul has treated some 250 people for breathing difficulties linked to a sulfur plant that was torched by the Islamic State group.

Mahmoud Osman, a medical assistant, said Saturday that some 250 people were treated for breathing difficulties the day before because of the smoke. He says they ran out of hydrocortisone and oxygen supplies. Most patients were under 18 or elderly.

The hospital deployed five mobile teams to outlying villages, but their ability to reach residents in the region is hampered by the volatile security situation. Osman says eight patients with serious respiratory problems were sent to a hospital in the Kurdish regional capital, Irbil.

Iraqi forces are waging a major offensive aimed at retaking Mosul from the Islamic State group, which captured Iraq's second largest city in the summer of 2014.

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8 p.m.

The Russian Defense Ministry says an airstrike in Iraq by the U.S.-led coalition has left dozens of civilians dead.

The ministry's spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said Friday's strike on a funeral procession in the town of Daquq has "all the signs of a war crime."

Konashenkov said two jets of the U.S.-led coalition were involved in the raid, apparently mistaking the procession for militants of the Islamic State group. The IS on Friday launched an attack on the city of Kirkuk, about 30 km north of Daquq.

Daquq Mayor Amir Khodakram says an airstrike hit a funeral procession in the city center on Friday, killing 17 people, mainly women and children, and wounding another 50. He says it was not clear who carried out the airstrike and that an investigation is underway.

Russia has welcomed the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces' push to dislodge the IS from Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city. At the same time, Russia and the U.S. are sharply divided on Syria, where Russian warplanes have backed Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

The U.S. military in Baghdad could not immediately be reached for comment.

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7 p.m.

A police commander in Kirkuk says the assault by the Islamic State group on the northern Iraqi city that began early Friday has killed at least 80 people, mostly security forces.

Brig. Gen. Khattab Omer says another 170 people were wounded in the assault, which involved a wave of attacks in and around the city by more than 50 militants. Fighting raged in the Kirkuk city center for 24 hours, and skirmishes were ongoing in other parts of the city on Saturday.

The attack appeared to be intended to divert attention from Mosul, some 170 kilometers (100 miles) away, where Iraq has launched a major offensive aimed at driving out the extremists. IS captured Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, in the summer of 2014.

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6:30 p.m.

Iraq's Prime Minister says the assault on the northern city of Kirkuk was not a military breach but a terrorist attack, and that security forces are close to regaining full control of the city.

At a meeting with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Saturday, Haider al-Abadi said "nearly all the terrorists that entered Kirkuk have been eliminated, and we have full control, except for maybe one area where they are being flushed out."

IS launched a wide-scale assault on Friday in and around Kirkuk, battling Kurdish security forces for more than 24 hours and killing at least 14 people. Brig. Gen. Khattab Omer, of the Kirkuk police, says more than 50 militants took part in the assault.

Carter arrived earlier Saturday for talks on the Iraqi offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, which captured Iraq's second largest city more than two years ago.

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3:15 p.m.

An Iraqi television station says one of its reporters has been shot dead near Mosul, the second journalist in as many days to be killed while covering the conflict.

Alsumaria TV says cameraman Ali Risan was shot in the chest by a sniper Saturday during a battle in the al-Shura area, from where Iraqi forces are pushing north as part of an operation to retake the Islamic State-held city of Mosul.

Journalist Ahmet Haceroglu of Turkmeneli TV was shot dead by a militant sniper Friday, while covering an IS assault on the northern city of Kirkuk.

Several journalists are embedded with Iraqi units taking part in the Mosul offensive, which began Monday and is expected to take weeks, if not months. Mosul is Iraq's second largest city, and fell to IS in the summer of 2014.

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1:31 p.m.

Islamic State militants have launched a rocket and opened fire on an Iraqi convoy near a town that was recently retaken from IS as part of the offensive against militant-held Mosul.

The Iraqi special forces in the convoy returned fire after being attacked on Saturday. No one was wounded in the exchange, but it highlighted the dangers Iraqi forces face in areas that have recently been retaken from the militants.

Iraqi forces announced that Bartella, some 15 kilometers (nine miles) east of Mosul, had been retaken on Thursday, but the troops are still coming under fire from nearby areas.

Inside the town, a road extending more than 100 meters (yards) was completely demolished, with all the homes on either side reduced to rubble. IS graffiti was scrawled across the walls, and the militants appear to have renamed streets and neighborhoods after famous fighters during the more than two years they controlled the area.

The graffiti left by the Sunni extremists also denigrated Iraq's Shiite majority.

— Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Bartella, Iraq

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12:38 p.m.

U.S. military officials say that a fire at a sulfur plant in northern Iraq set by Islamic State militants on Thursday is creating a potential breathing hazard for American forces and other troops at a logistical base south of Mosul.

Two officials said that while the fire was set two days ago in Mishraq, the winds shifted earlier Saturday, sending the smoke south toward Qayara West air field. The base is being used by troops as a staging area for the fight to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

They said troops at the base are now wearing protective masks because of the breathing concerns.

Officials said air samples have been sent to the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency and analysis is ongoing to determine what, if any, concerns may result. They estimate it could take two to three days to put the fire out.

—Lolita Baldor in Baghdad

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11:14 a.m.

The Iraqi army says the 9th Division has pushed into a town southeast of the Islamic State-held city of Mosul and raised the Iraqi flag over a government compound in the town's center.

The army claimed to have taken the town of Hamdaniyah, also known as Qaraqosh and Bakhdida, on Saturday, but was likely still facing pockets of resistance in and around the town. Similar past announcements have often proved premature.

Two officers from the 9th Division confirmed troops had captured the government compound and raised the flag over it. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Hamdaniyah is around 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Mosul. Iraqi forces launched a wide-scale offensive earlier this week aimed at retaking Mosul, the country's second largest city, which fell to IS in 2014.

— Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Khazer, Iraq

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9:31 a.m.

The Iraqi army's 9th Division has launched a new push to retake a town near Mosul from the Islamic State group.

The Joint Military Operation Command said Saturday that troops were advancing on Hamdaniyah, also known as Bakhdida and Qaraqosh, to the southeast of Mosul. The operation is part of a massive offensive launched Monday aimed at liberating Iraq's second largest city, which fell to IS in 2014.

Hamdaniyah is believed to be largely uninhabited. IS has heavily mined the approaches to Mosul, and Iraqi forces have had to contend with roadside bombs, snipers and suicide truck bombs as they have moved closer to the city.

Iraqi forces are now around 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Mosul. The operation to retake the city is expected to take weeks, if not months.

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9:12 a.m.

Iraqi police say a massive Islamic State assault on targets in and around the northern city of Kirkuk has come to an end after a day and night of heavy clashes.

Brig. Gen. Khattab Omer said Saturday that all the attackers were killed or blew themselves up. The area around the provincial headquarters, where the fighting was heaviest, was quiet Saturday morning.

It was not clear how many militants took part in the assault, which appeared to be aimed at diverting attention from the IS-held city of Mosul, around 170 kilometers (100 miles) away, where Iraqi forces are waging a major offensive.

The militants killed 13 workers, including four Iranians, at a power plant north of Kirkuk, and a local television reporter was killed by a sniper in the city.