Iraq was investigating whether Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) jihadist group chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in air strikes by US-led coalition warplanes targeting the group’s leaders.
The death of the elusive Baghdadi would be a major victory for the coalition of countries carrying out air strikes against IS and aiding Iraqi forces fighting to regain large areas of Iraq that the jihadists have overrun.
The announcement of the strikes came after President Barack Obama unveiled plans to send up to 1,500 more US troops to Iraq to advise and train the country’s forces, deepening Washington’s commitment to the open-ended war against ISIS.
US Central Command, which oversees American forces in the Middle East, said that coalition aircraft conducted a “series of air strikes” against “a gathering of (ISIS) leaders near Mosul”.
Meanwhile, Iraqi forces reached the centre of the city of Baiji to break an ISIS siege of the country’s biggest refinery nearby, triggering clashes with the militants.
ISIS seized Baiji and surrounded the sprawling refinery in June during a lightning advance through northern Iraq.