More than 20 killed in Islamic State attack west of Baghdad

Al-Abadi said the extremist group, which controls large swaths of territory in western and northern Iraq, is throwing significant resources into the battle for Beiji. The militants had lined the inner and outer walls of the temple with bottles of explosives more than a month ago, he said.

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Activists outside Palmyra reported the demolition of the Temple of Baalshamin late Sunday, but there were conflicting accounts of the timing and the extent of the destruction.

There was no immediate word from other authorities on the violence.

If Iraqi security forces regain full control around Baiji, it could help them push north towards the IS-held city of Mosul and offset losses in the western province of Anbar. It has already blown up several sites in neighbouring Iraq, and it is also believed to sell looted antiquities. The monastery was in the town of Qaryatain in central Syria.

At least 23 Iraqi soldiers and government-allied Sunni militiamen were killed on Sunday by Islamic State militants.

Iraqi forces on July 28 fought off a similar attack – featuring the coordination of suicide bombers and infantry – on the University of Anbar complex, which they had seized from IS fighters two days prior.

Meanwhile, a provincial security source told Xinhua that Major General Qasim al-Muhamdi of Operations Command in Anbar province was wounded in an IS mortar barrage in north of the provincial capital city of Ramadi, some 110 km west of Baghdad.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

No group or individual has claimed responsibility for the bombing which featured all the signs of an attack carried out by Daesh Takfiri militants who are controlling Ramadi and most of the province.

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Government troops liberated Beiji from Islamic State control past year , but government forces and allied Shi’ite militiamen there have recently come under mounting pressure from militants advancing on the town.

Iraqi soldiers carry the coffin of an Iraqi fighter who belonged to Iraq's Popular Mobilization units and was killed in the town of Baiji during clashes against Daesh