Iraq ground offensive looms as Baghdad bomb kills 14
BAGHDAD - Agence France Presse
A woman with her children walks past at the site of a suicide bombing attack in the Shi'ite neighborhood of Kadhimiya in Baghdad February 9, 2015. REUTERS PhotoA top US envoy said Iraqi troops would begin a major ground offensive against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the coming weeks, as a suicide bomber killed 14 people in Baghdad Feb. 9.
ISIL spearheaded an offensive that swept through large areas north and west of Baghdad last June, and Iraqi forces are battling to regain ground with support from US-led air strikes.
Jordan announced it has carried out dozens of strikes against the jihadists since Thursday, as it seeks to avenge an airman burned alive by the group.
John Allen, the US coordinator for the anti-ISIL coalition of Western and Arab countries, said Sunday that Iraqi troops would begin a major ground offensive against the jihadists "in the weeks ahead".
"When the Iraqi forces begin the ground campaign to take back Iraq, the coalition will provide major firepower associated with that," he told Jordan's official Petra news agency.
Iraqi forces have already carried out operations near Baghdad and in Diyala and Salaheddin provinces north of the capital.
The militants were stopped short of the capital in June and have since been pushed back, but can still carry out deadly attacks.
On Monday, a suicide bomber attacked Baghdad's Shiite-majority Kadhimiyah district, killing at least 14 people and wounding at least 43, officials said.
The bomber struck near pavement vendors in the district's crowded Aden Square, an AFP journalist reported.
Blood stains were still visible on the ground.
It was the second suicide bombing to hit the capital in three days. On Saturday, an attack inside a restaurant in the Baghdad Jadida area killed at least 23 people.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Monday attack, but suicide bombings are a tactic almost exclusively employed by Sunni extremists in Iraq, including ISIL.
Jordanian air force chief Major General Mansour al-Jobour said Sunday the kingdom had launched 56 strikes against the jihadists since Thursday as part of the US-led air campaign that Washington says is beginning to bite.
Jordan had vowed an "earth-shattering" response after ISIL captured one of its pilots and released gruesome video of him apparently being burned alive.
"On the first day of the campaign to avenge our airman Maaz al-Kassasbeh, 19 targets were destroyed, including training camps and equipment," Jobour told reporters.
The air force chief said strikes since last Thursday had destroyed dozens of targets, including barracks, training camps, and ammunition and fuel depots.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the air campaign, launched in Iraq in August and expanded to Syria the following month, was helping ground forces to win back territory and depriving the jihadists of key funds.
There have been 2,000 air strikes on ISIL so far, Kerry told a security conference in the German city of Munich.
They have helped ground forces to retake some 700 square kilometres (270 square miles) of territory from the jihadists, or "one-fifth of the area they had in their control", he said.
The top US diplomat did not specify whether the recaptured territory was in Iraq or Syria.
But he added the coalition had "deprived the militants of the use of 200 oil and gas facilities... disrupted their command structure... squeezed its finance and dispersed its personnel."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said Sunday that Kurdish forces had recaptured more than a third of the villages around Kobane, a strategic town on the Syrian-Turkish border.
The Kurds recaptured Kobane on January 26 after four months of fierce fighting backed by Syrian rebels and coalition air strikes.
As Jordan stepped up its air war, ISIL claimed on Friday that an American aid worker it had taken hostage -- Kayla Jean Mueller, 26 -- had been buried alive under rubble by a coalition strike on its self-proclaimed capital of Raqa in Syria.
Mueller's parents said they were hopeful their daughter was still alive, while US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said Washington was seeking clarification on her fate.