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Iraqi troops fight attack on state buildings

Conflicting claims on death toll as security clampdown angers minority

Gulf News

Dubai: Iraqi troops were on Wednesday battling insurgents after they seized government buildings in northern Iraq, security officials said.

At least five soldiers were killed in the fighting in the town of Sulaiman Beik, some 170 kilometres north of Baghdad, according to Shalal Abdul, a local police chief. Agency reports said at least three gunmen were also killed, with a dozen or so injured.

A conflicting agency report said nine police officers were killed in fighting on Wednesday, with the toll climbing towards 20 by the day’s end. The fatalities come a day after at least 27 people were killed and dozens injured in clashes that followed the army’s crackdown on Sunni protesters in the town of Haweja, near the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk.

A similar number of fatalities were also reported elsewhere in the restive region, which has been wracked by simmering sectarian conflict that has boiled over since last weekend.

The security clampdown by troops has further infuriated the Sunni minority amid deep resentment against the Shiite-led government.

“This is a real massacre,” said Shaikh Abdullah Sami, a member of the Kirkuk local council. “Our young people were treacherously killed ... We want their killers to be punished.”

Gunmen also attacked a Sahwa anti-Al Qaida militia checkpoint in Khales, northeast of Baghdad, killing four of the militiamen and wounding a fifth, a police lieutenant colonel and a doctor said.

Gunmen wounded a policeman in the northern city of Mosul, while a soldier was wounded in another shooting to its south, police and a doctor said. Three of the gunmen were killed in the Mosul attack.

Three people were also killed in apparently unrelated violence.

A car bomb against a police patrol killed two police and a civilian and wounded at least seven other people in Tarmiyah, north of Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official and a medical source said.

And in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, a mortar attack targeting the home of a provincial council member wounded a man and two children, although the politician was unharmed, a police captain and a doctor said.

Protesters have taken to the streets in Sunni-majority areas for more than four months, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and decrying the alleged targeting of their minority community by the Shiite-led authorities.

The wave of violence that began on Tuesday is the deadliest to date linked to the protests.

— Compiled from agencies