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Overnight attacks in 2 Iraqi cities kill at least 16 people, wound 39, officials say

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BAGHDAD - Attacks overnight in two Iraqi cities killed at least 16 people, officials said Monday as authorities struggle to stop the Sunni militants' offensive that has left huge areas in northern and western Iraq outside of government control.

In one of the attacks, mortar rounds rained down on Shiite neighbourhoods in the town of Mahmoudiya on Sunday night, killing 11 civilians and wounding 31, a police official said. The mixed Shiite-Sunni town is about 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of Baghdad.

And in Baghdad's western suburb of Abu Ghraib, a roadside bomb struck an army patrol, killing two soldiers and three volunteers who took up arms following the Sunni militant push across Iraq in recent weeks. Eighth people were wounded in that attack, said the police official.

Two medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to media.

In early January, al-Qaida breakaway extremist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, seized control of the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, as well as parts of the nearby city of Ramadi, the provincial capital of western Anbar province.

In June, the Islamic State launched a massive blitz offensive that brought large swaths of northern and western Iraq under their control.

So far, Iraq's security forces have struggled to retake any of the ground they surrendered to the militants over the past five weeks.

On Friday, the U.S. mission in Iraq said at least 5,576 civilians were killed and another 11,665 wounded in the first six months of this year. Another 1.2 million people have been uprooted from their homes by the violence.

The civilian deaths so far this year mark a sharp increase over the previous year, when just over 7,800 civilians killed, according to U.N.

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Associated Press writer Murtada Faraj contributed to this report.

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