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BAGHDAD (AP) — A powerful Iraqi Shiite militia said Tuesday that at least 40 of its militiamen were killed in an attack the previous day on its positions across the border in Syria. The militia blamed the U.S.-led coalition for the assault but the Islamic State group claimed its fighters had targeted the militiamen.
The deputy head of the militia, known as Kattaib Sayeed al-Shuhadaa, accused U.S. forces of carrying out the early Monday assault. The Baghdad-based spokesman of the U.S.-led coalition, Army Col. Ryan Dillon, dismissed the allegation, saying on Twitter that no coalition airstrikes took place in the area at the time.
According to the militia's deputy, Ahmed al-Maksousi, they were hit by artillery fire in Syria's Jamouna area, about 12 kilometers (about 7.5 miles) from the Iraqi border.
He said the attack was launched from around Iraq's city of Mosul, recently recaptured by Iraqi forces from the Islamic State group, and was followed by an on-the-ground assault by S militants. Along with 40 killed, at least 30 militiamen were wounded, al-Maksousi added.
The militia vowed "this act will not pass without punishment."
In an online statement, IS said it staged a three-pronged attack that included a suicide bombing, followed by fighters storming the militiamen's positions. The group added that one IS fighter was captured.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, speaking at a press conference Tuesday, said he spoke with the militia's leadership and that reports of the incident were still being confirmed.
Several Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militias have been fighting in Syria alongside Syrian government troops.
Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.