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U.S. defense chief arrives in Baghdad on unannounced visit

Published: Today 3:50 am U.S. defense chief arrives in Baghdad on unannounced visit By Yeganeh Torbati

Baghdad has been targeted in increasingly devastating attacks against civilians in 2016 as the Islamic State is losing the ground war against Iraqi security forces and the US -led anti-Islamic State coalition.

Iraqi government forces deployed across Baghdad on Monday, closing off main roads and snarling traffic.

"Forces from the 9th Armoured Division and the counter-terrorism service liberated Ajhala village north of Qayara base", Obeidi said on Twitter.

In 2014, the Iraqi insurgency escalated into a civil war with the conquest of Fallujah and Mosul and major areas in northern Iraq by the Islamic State.

They will primarily be used to transform an air base retaken this month from IS into a staging hub for the long-awaited battle to recapture Mosul - Iraq's second-largest city - from the extremists.

During an unannounced visit to Iraq, he said that most of the troops were engineers, logistics personnel and other technicians.

Even with the latest deployment announced by Department of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Monday, total USA troop strength in Iraq is unlikely to exceed 6,500, the report explained.

"Iraqi security forces, accompanied and advised by us as needed, will complete the southernmost envelopment of Mosul", he said.Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, commander of the coalition against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, said the additional troops would fill a variety of roles.

The new American forces should arrive in the coming weeks.

Hundreds of USA marines are already deployed in Iraq as trainers and advisers to help the country win the battle against the IS extremists in Iraq's western province of Anbar as well as in northern regions.

However, there is still debate in Washington about the timing of an offensive on Mosul.

US forces have already visited Qayara to check on its condition, and advisors can offer specialised engineering support in Mosul, US officials said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of IS. The Islamic State's self-proclaimed "caliphate" decreased to about 26,400 square miles, down from 30,100 square miles.

Engineers and logistics specialists will be among the new deployment, bringing the number of United States personnel in the country to around 4,650.

An IS suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden minibus in a crowded Baghdad shopping area on July 3, killing 292 people in one of the deadliest such attacks to ever hit Iraq.

"In fact, it demonstrates (Islamic State's) strength and long-term survival skills", terrorism expert Hassan Hassan wrote in a recent article.

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