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As Islamic militants continue their murderous advance across Iraq, they have a new target in their sights: the city of Baquba, less than 40 miles north of Baghdad.
Gunbattles erupted in the city, only a 45-minute drive from the capital, on Tuesday as fighters and Iraqi government forces clashed.
Civilians are fleeing violence there and elsewhere in Iraq even as the United States bolsters its manpower in the region while it mulls what action to take.
According to a Baquba police official and an official in the Baquba governor’s office, militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have “made a great advance on Baquba” and are pushing very hard to take it, but the city has not fallen.
The Baquba officials told CNN that ISIS is moving in on the western side of Baquba and that villages just west of the city, as well as some areas in western Baquba, are under ISIS control.
Some families, mainly Shiite, are fleeing that side of the city, the officials said. They are moving deeper into Baquba or leaving the city altogether to escape the looming violence.
The ISIS push started late Monday with a large-scale attack on the Al Wahda police station on the western edge of Baquba.
Heavy clashes between Iraqi security forces and ISIS militants ensued, leaving at least one Iraqi security force member and nine militants dead, according to the Baquba officials.
At least 44 prisoners in the jail at the Al Wahda police station were also killed, though there were conflicting reports as to how.
Two police officials in Baquba told CNN the prisoners were killed after ISIS militants fired four mortar rounds on the prison.
But a health official and a police official claimed that most of the prisoners were shot in the head and chest, and that none showed signs of having been killed in explosions.
Meanwhile, Iraqi state television reported that 52 prisoners were killed after ISIS militants threw hand grenades into the local prison.
In Baghdad, police told CNN that six bombs exploded, resulting in at least a dozen deaths and many more injuries. It’s unclear who was behind the carnage.
Kurdish security sources also reported violence near