'Hundreds' of Iraqi soldiers killed in militant drive: official

A Iraqi soldier stands guard on a street in the central Shiite Muslim shrine city of Najaf on June 14, 2014 (AFP Photo/Haidar Hamdani)

Baghdad (AFP) - Iraqi premier Nuri al-Maliki's security spokesman said Monday that "hundreds" of Iraqi soldiers have been killed by Sunni Arab militants in a major offensive that has overrun vast tracts of the country.

The announcement on television by Lieutenant General Qassem Atta is the most specific information provided so far by the government on Iraqi security forces' casualties since the insurgents launched their offensive on June 9.

The government has issued a steady stream of statements, which cannot be independently verified, announcing the deaths of hundreds of militants, but has yet to provide a concrete figure for its own casualties.

The offensive, spearheaded by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant jihadists but involving other groups as well, has swept through major areas of five different provinces.

Iraqi security forces wilted during the initial onslaught and are now struggling to hold ground in the face of the onslaught.