BAGHDAD, June 15 (Reuters) – Seventeen people were killed in Iraq on Monday in clashes between Islamic State militants and pro-government forces in a town close to the country's biggest refinery, a focal point in efforts to counter the ultra-hardline Sunni group.
The refinery beside the town of Baiji has changed hands before, reflecting the Iraqi army's struggle to hold territory it recaptures after months of clashes.
Fighting on Monday took place on a road used by Islamic State for supply lines leading from Baiji to the nearby town of Siniya to the west.
Twelve militants, two government soldiers and three members of Shi'ite militias that provide vital support for the army were killed, a senior regional security official said.
Siniya is held by Islamic State, which controls a third of Iraq, as well as parts of neighbouring Syria.
The group, which also holds territory in Libya and has sympathisers in Egypt, highlights the spread of Islamist militancy since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that toppled veteran autocrats who had repressed hardline groups.
Iraq's government hoped to gain momentum after the army and its Shi'ite militia allies seized back Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit in April following a month-long battle.
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