Baghdad: Iraqi soldiers backed by tanks retook control of a predominantly Sunni town north of Baghdad yesterday after gunmen withdrew without a fight, although violence erupted at three Sunni mosques and clerics called for the formation of a tribal army to protect Sunni cities.
The Sunni gunmen had seized Sulaiman Bek on Thursday after a firefight with security forces, one in a string of similar incidents that have killed more than 150 people in clashes in Sunni Muslim towns in western and northern Iraq during the past four days. The fighting has raised concerns about a rising number of sectarian clashes in Iraq where Sunnis are alleging mistreatment by the government dominated by Shiites.
Police and military officials said army units entered the town after negotiations with local tribal leaders.
The recent unrest in the country followed a deadly security crackdown on a Sunni protest in the northern town of Hawija four days ago.
In Iraq’s predominantly Sunni provinces, anti-government rallies continued as preachers at protest sites called for the formation of tribal army that would protect Sunni areas from attacks by government forces.
In Samarra, Sunni cleric Najih Al Mizan lashed out at what he said were “the policies of tyranny and repression” adopted by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. He said Al Maliki’s resignation was the only solution to save the country from the current crisis.
“We call upon our tribes to form an army that can protect us from a government that does not hesitate to kill its people,” said Al Mizan.
In Fallujah, Sunni cleric Ali Al Basra repeated the call to form a tribal army, while several protesters held aloft flags often associated with Al Qaida.