BAGHDAD – Iraqi troops and Shiite militiamen repelled an attack by the Islamic State group in western Anbar province on Friday but 10 Iraqi soldiers died in the fighting, along with at least 12 militants, officials said.
The militants attacked the government-held town of Khalidiyah by unleashing mortar shells and five suicide car bombers, according to Anbar councilman Athal al-Fahdawi.
After an hours-long battle, the Sunni militants pulled back, leaving behind 12 dead fighters. Some were hiding in houses in nearby Abu Flais village, al-Fahdawi added.
Police and army officers, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said at least 10 soldiers were killed.
However, the Islamic State group's Radio al-Bayan claimed that IS militants had seized positions in the Khalidyah area after attacking Iraqi troops and Shiite militias with car bombs.
Iraqi forces, backed by Shiite militias, have been struggling to recapture areas lost to IS in the country's west and north.
In May, the militant group scored a stunning victory when it overran Ramadi in Anbar province, capturing large amounts of ammunition and armored vehicles from fleeing Iraqi government troops.
Also Friday, a representative for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, urged countries in the region to take "decisive measures" to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.
"The continuation of the policy of carelessness and giving a blind eye on the flow of these fighters to Iraq will increase the danger of these gangs to Iraq and they will represent a threat to their countries," said al-Sistani's aide, Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalei, relaying the ayatollah's message during a Friday sermon in the city of Karbala.
Foreign fighters have been streaming into Syria and Iraq by the thousands to join IS and other extremist groups.
In neighboring Syria's northeastern city of Hassakeh, intense clashes erupted between IS fighters and Syrian troops, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syrian state TV.
Syria's state news agency, SANA, said a fire broke out at a government building in Hassakeh after it was hit with a mortar round fired by the IS fighters. It had no immediate word on casualties.
Earlier in the day, the Observatory and state TV reported two explosions in the city. The Observatory said the blasts targeted Kurdish fighters who have been battling against IS for months there.
Meanwhile, in central Syria, government troops fought fierce battles with IS militants near the historic town of Palmyra that was captured by the extremists in May.
The capture of Palmyra -- with its nearby UNESCO world heritage site famous for 2,000-year-old Roman colonnades, other ruins and priceless artifacts -- has raised concern that the militants might try to destroy one of the Mideast's most spectacular archaeological sites as they have destroyed other pre-Islamic ancient monuments elsewhere in Syria and Iraq.
Al-Manar TV of Lebanon's Hezbollah group said Syrian troops are advancing in the direction of Palmyra, inflicting heavy losses among the extremists.