Militants ambush convoy with off-duty Iraq soldiers, kill 10

Soldier with the Iraqi special forces walk through the streets of Mosul as fighting between Iraqi forces and the Islamic State group continues on Saturday, April 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)(AP Photo/Bram Janssen)

BAGHDAD (AP) — Militants in Iraq ambushed a convoy of off-duty soldiers near a town in the country’s sprawling western desert, killing at least 10 and wounding 20, officials said on Monday.

Iraqi Maj. Emad al-Dulaimi said the attack took place the night before near the town of Rutba. The militants were armed with assault rifles and rockets. Al-Dulaimi said he blamed the Islamic State group.

The Islamic State group later in the day took responsibility for the attack. A statement on the IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency claimed 18 were killed in the ambush, including two officers.

IS has carried out many similar attacks targeting Iraqi forces in the past months to detract from the ongoing battle between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants in Mosul.

Rutba lies about 390 kilometers west of Baghdad in the country’s vast Anbar province. It’s the last sizable town on the way to the border with Jordan.

Iraqi forces launched a wide-scale military operation last October to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city from Islamic State militants. The eastern half of the city, separated in two by the Tigris River, was declared completely free of IS in January and now Iraqi forces are fighting to rout IS from all of the western, more densely populated half of the city.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said last week that 493,000 people have been displaced from the city and that as many as 500,000 others remain in IS-controlled parts of western Mosul.