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US air strikes target IS leaders

The US has conducted a series of air strikes targeting Islamic State leaders near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, according to a senior US defence official.

It was not known whether Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was among those targeted.

Meanwhile on Saturday, a series of bombings in and around the capital Baghdad killed at least 43 people, with the deadliest blast hitting the city's sprawling Shia district of Sadr City, where a car bomb tore through a commercial area, killing 11 people and wounding 21.

There has been an uptick in the number of bombings blamed on Sunni militants in the capital and mostly targeting Shias, feeding sectarian tensions in the city, as the security forces of the Shia-led government battle the Sunni militants of IS to the west and north of the capital. More recently, the attacks targeted Shia pilgrims marking Ashoura, the highlight of the sect's religious calendar.

A suicide truck bomber targeting the convoy of a top Iraqi police officer killed eight people, including the ranking official, authorities said, in an attack that bore the hallmarks of militants from IS.

The late Friday attack happened when the suicide attacker drove his bomb-laden truck into the convoy of police Lt Gen Faisal Malik Zamel, who was inspecting forces in the town of Beiji north of Baghdad, police said. The blast killed Mr Zamel and seven other police officers, while wounding 15 people, hospital officials and police officers said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Beiji, 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of Baghdad, but suicide bombings have been the signature style of Sunni militants for more than a decade in Iraq.

Shia prime minister Haider Abadi, recognising Mr Zamel's standing, led mourners at his funeral on Saturday and a top army officer, Gen Abdul-Wahab Saadi, vowed to avenge his death.

"Beiji will be the graveyard of Daesh," said a clearly moved Mr Saadi on state television. Mr Saadi, the army's chief of operations in the province of Salahuddin, was using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

Mr Saadi and Mr Zamel have been leading the ongoing battle to rid Beiji, which is located in Salahuddin, of IS fighters who swept into the city last summer. "We have cleansed many of Beiji's neighbourhoods and we will shortly announce its complete liberation," said Mr Saadi.

A US-led coalition has been launching air strikes on Islamic State militants and facilities in Iraq and Syria for months as part of an effort to give Iraqi forces the time and space to mount a more effective offensive. IS had gained ground across northern and western Iraq in a lightning advance in June and July, causing several of Iraq's army and police divisions to fall into disarray.

On Friday, US president Barack Obama authorised the deployment of up to 1,500 more American troops to bolster Iraqi forces, including into Anbar province, where fighting with IS militants has been fierce. The plan could boost the total number of American troops in Iraq to 3,100. There are now about 1,400 US troops in Iraq, out of the 1,600 previously authorised.

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