February 12, 2015 / 4:03 PM / 5 years ago

Islamist State fighters seize western Iraqi town - officials

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Islamic State insurgents took control on Thursday of most of the western Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi, threatening an air base where U.S. Marines are training Iraqi troops, officials said.

Al-Baghdadi, about 85 km (50 miles) northwest of Ramadi in Anbar province, had been besieged for months by the radical Sunni Islamist militants who captured vast swathes of Iraq’s north and west last year.

“Ninety percent of al-Baghdadi district has fallen under the control of the insurgents,” district manager Naji Arak told Reuters by phone.

Militants attacked al-Baghdadi from two directions earlier in the day and then advanced on the town, intelligence sources and officials in the Jazeera and Badiya operations commands said.

The officials said another group of insurgents then attacked the heavily-guarded Ain al-Asad air base five km southwest of the town, but were unable to break into it.

About 320 U.S. Marines are training members of the Iraqi 7th Division at the base, which has been struck by mortrar fire on at least one previous occasion since December.

U.S. officials in Iraq were not immediately available for comment, and a defence ministry spokesman declined to comment on the situation in Anbar.

The death toll from the fighting was not immediately clear.

Most of the surrounding towns in Anbar fell under Islamic State control after the group’s rapid advance across the Syrian border last summer.

Reporting by Saif Hameed; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Andrew Roche

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