BAGHDAD (AP) — A French soldier serving alongside Iraqi forces was killed in combat during a counterterrorism operation north of Baghdad, according to the French military.
Such losses among foreign forces in Iraq have been rare in recent years. Two Iraqi soldiers and four other French troops were also wounded in the operation, which an Iraqi official said was targeting a cell of the Islamic State group.
Sgt. Nicolas Mazier of parachute commando No. 10 was on a reconnaissance mission Monday with Iraqi forces about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad when a group of extremists attacked Iraqi forces, the French military said in a statement.
Mazier was wounded in the ensuing shootout and died in the hospital Tuesday, the statement said. Clashes continued until Tuesday morning.
French forces were providing air support to the operation, which targeted an IS cell in the al-Aith area of Salahaddin province, said an Iraqi security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
IS was defeated and lost all territory it once controlled in Syria and Iraq, with its last stronghold in Syria falling to the U.S.-backed campaign in 2019. However, sleeper cells remain and have carried out attacks that have killed scores of Iraqis and Syrians.
Rural areas of Kirkuk, Diyala, Ninevah and Salahaddin provinces in particular have been difficult to police, with Iraqi security forces spread thin and IS militants routinely terrorizing residents. At times they have managed to overrun towns overnight due to the security gaps.
Mazier had been deployed since July in France’s military operation in the region, called Chammal, to help train Iraqi anti-terrorism forces. In a tribute to Mazier, French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed "France's determination in its fight against terrorism at Iraq's side.''
He was the third French soldier to die in Iraq this month, after one was fatally wounded during an urban combat training exercise, and another died in a traffic accident.