- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

BAGHDAD (AP) - Clashes with Islamic State militants killed a senior Kurdish military commander and eight of his fighters on Friday just outside the disputed northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, officials said.

The casualties are a heavy setback for the Iraqi Kurds, who have been at the forefront of the battle against the Islamic State group, which has captured a third of both Iraq and Syria since its blitz last year.

Also Friday, a car bomb exploded outside an empty, closed hotel near police headquarters in the oil-rich Kirkuk, where both the Kurdish troops and the city’s security force have been trying to rout the IS group. Two people were wounded in the blast. Three gunmen subsequently took positions inside the hotel, located in the city center, triggering a firefight with the Kurds and the police.

Associated Press footage from the scene showed members of the Kurdish troops and the local police firing at the Qassir Hotel in Kirkuk and then storming it. Officials later said the gunmen were all killed. Kirkuk is about 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad.

The Kurdish Brig. Gen. Shirko Fatih and eight Kurdish fighters died in clashes south of the city earlier in the day, said Brig. Khatab Omar. The IS militants attacked the peshmerga fighters’ positions south of Kirkuk.

The casualties come as Iraq is facing its worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops, with Islamic State militants now in control of about a third of the country.

Also Friday, bombings targeting a crowded market in Baghdad and Shiite militiamen north of the city killed 19 people.

A bomb first exploded near carts selling used clothes in the Iraqi capital’s central Bab al-Sharqi area, followed by a second bomb as people rushed to help victims from the first blast. Police and hospital officials said 13 people were killed and 28 were wounded at the market. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Police officials also that said a suicide bomber drove his-explosive-laden car into a security checkpoint manned by Shiite militiamen near the city of Samarra, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad, killing four militiamen and wounding 10.

The Shiite militias have been fighting alongside government forces against the Islamic State, a Sunni extremist group that seized vast swaths of northern and western Iraq last year.

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