At least nine Iraqi federal policemen were killed on Sunday after a bomb struck their convoy southwest of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, two security sources told Reuters.

The blast took place near the village of Safra , which lies about 30 kilometres southwest of Kirkuk, said the source, adding that two other policemen were critically wounded.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani has ordered a hunt for the “terrorist elements” who carried out the attack, dispatching the federal police commander to the area for further investigation, his office said in a statement.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but militant Islamic State (IS) fighters are active in the area.

Iraqi police officers said IS militants were involved in the attack, using roadside bombs to target the police force which was patrolling the area.

A federal police officer who attributed the assault to the IS told AFP on condition of anonymity that a bomb blast initially targeted a truck transporting the men. It was followed by “a direct attack with small arms”, near the village of Chalal al-Matar, he added.

“An assailant has been killed and we are looking for the others,” the officer said, adding that two policemen were also wounded in the attack.

In Baghdad, an official from the Ministry of Interior confirmed the attack, saying seven police, including one officer, were killed.

The IS seized large swathes of Iraqi and Syrian territory from 2014, declaring a “caliphate” where they ruled with brutality before their defeat in late 2017 by Iraqi forces backed by a US-led military coalition.

IS lost its last Syrian bastion, near the Iraqi border, in 2019.

The US-led anti-IS coalition continued a combat role in Iraq until December last year, but roughly 2,500 American soldiers remain in the country as trainers.

IS remnants, however, remain active in several areas of Iraq.

Baghdad’s security forces continue to carry out counter-terrorism operations against the group and the deaths of IS fighters in airstrikes and raids are regularly announced.

Despite the setbacks, which have left the IS a shadow of its former self, the group can still call on an underground network of between 6,000 and 10,000 fighters to carry out attacks on both sides of the porous Iraqi-Syrian border, according to a UN report released earlier this year.

On Wednesday a roadside bomb that hit a military vehicle killed three Iraqi soldiers in farmland north of Baghdad, the defence ministry said.

There was no immediate claim for the bombing in a known hotspot of IS sleeper cells.

Last month, a machine gun attack on a remote northern Iraqi military post killed four soldiers near Kirkuk, a military source said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

In January 2021, IS claimed responsibility for a twin suicide attack at a Baghdad market that killed 32 people, the first such assault in the city for more than three years.

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