On Saturday, Iraqi troops supported by Shiite militiamen battled Sunni militants who had seized at least partial control of a military base outside the town of Muqdadiyah, about 90 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad. The troops and pro-government fighters succeeded in pushing insurgents out of the nearby hamlet of Nofal, but the base remained split between the warring sides, police officials said.
Police and hospital officials said the bodies of 16 pro-government fighters — a mix of soldiers and militiamen — killed in the fighting were taken to the morgue in Muqdadiyah, and another 15 were taken to the provincial capital of Baqouba. They said a family of five, including three children, was killed in government airstrikes on Nofal.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
To the west of Baghdad, the government airlifted some 4,000 volunteers to Ramadi to boost their forces trying to defend the city from militant attack, said Gen. Rasheed Flayeh, the commander of operations in Anbar province. The operation began Friday and finished Saturday.
Ramadi is the capital of Anbar, an overwhelmingly Sunni province and one of the most active battle fronts in Iraq. The Islamic State extremist group and other Sunni militants seized control of the Anbar city of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi in January. The government has since reasserted its control of Ramadi, but Fallujah remains in insurgent hands.
The vast majority of volunteer fighters are Shiites who have answered a call from the country's top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to defend Iraq from the Sunni militants led by the Islamic State group, which has unilaterally declared the establishment of an Islamic state ruled by Shariah law in the territory it controls straddling the Iraq-Syria border.
The government's reliance on Shiite militias — who have deployed in sizeable numbers to several cities across the country — to help counter the militant threat has ramped up sectarian tensions, fueling fears that Iraq could return to the wholesale sectarian bloodletting that engulfed the country in 2006 and 2007.