BAGHDAD, June 19 (Xinhua) -- A total of 18 Sunni militants and a civilian were killed in clashes with Iraqi security forces across the country's eastern province of Diyala on Thursday, security sources said.
Iraqi helicopter gunships bombed posts of Sunni militant groups, including militants linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaida offshoot, around the city of Udheim which located some 60 km north of Diyala's provincial capital of Baquba, leaving 15 militants killed and dozens others wounded, Lieutenant General Abdul Amir al-Zaidi, Commander of Dijla Operations Command responsible for security of Diyala province, told Xinhua.
Iraqi army, police and Shiite militias launched early Thursday an offensive aimed at retaking the control of nine villages around Udheim, which were seized earlier by the militant groups, he said.
Separately, three Sunni militants were killed and four others wounded in a clash early in the day between the militants and Kurdish security forces, known as Peshmerga, in the city of Jalawlaa, some 130 km northeast of Baghdad, a provincial police source anonymously told Xinhua.
During the day, the Sunni militants withdrew from neighborhoods in the southern part of Jalawlaa after an artillery shelling by the Kurdish security forces, the source said.
Also on Thursday, a civilian was killed and another wounded in clashes in the city of Maqdadiyah, some 40 km north of Baquba, the source said.
Diyala province, which stretches from eastern edges of Baghdad to the Iranian border, has long been the stronghold of al-Qaida militant groups and hotbed of insurgency and sectarian violence since the U.S.-led invasion broke out in 2003.
The security deterioration in Iraq started on June 10 when bloody clashes broke out between the Iraqi security forces and hundreds of Sunni militants who took control of Mosul and later seized swathes of territories after the Iraqi security forces withdrew from their posts in Nineveh and other predominantly Sunni provinces.
Spearheaded by the ISIL fighters, the insurgency also include a wide coalition of other Sunni Arab militant groups, as well as loyalists of the former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Facing the swift advance of the Sunni militants, the Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been urging the United States to intervene the worsening security situation by launching air strikes against.
Acknowledging that it has not ruled out any options, including airstrikes, the Obama administration also urged the Iraqi government to exercise greater political inclusion.
Earlier this week, the Iraqi prime minister sacked some senior security officers for their failing to halt the advance of Sunni insurgent groups.