Gunmen seize part of Iraq town, villages

February 14, 2014 - 4:59:08 am
TIKRIT: Gunmen seized part of a northern Iraqi town and nearby villages yesterday, while bombs killed at least two people at a historic Baghdad market and set it ablaze, officials said.

The takeover in and around the Salaheddin provincial town of Sulaiman Bek comes as gunmen control all of one major city and part of another in the western province of Anbar in a stand-off that has lasted for weeks and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

It illustrates the scope of the security problems the country faces, the reach of militant groups and the inability of the armed forces to bring them under control.

The Sulaiman Bek violence began when militants armed with light and medium weapons attacked army positions and overran the town centre early yesterday, local official Talib Al Bayati said.

Some called over mosque loudspeakers for residents to leave, Bayati said, adding that soldiers subsequently surrounded the area and exchanged fire with militants.

Another local official, Shallal Abdul Baban, said militants were in control of western Sulaiman Bek and three nearby villages.

He reported sporadic clashes in the area, and said two policemen had been wounded.

The unrest followed a series of other attacks in the area, including one last July in which some 150 militants hit Sulaiman Bek with mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, and executed 14 Shia Muslim truck drivers on a nearby highway.

The town was also briefly seized by militants in late April.

In Baghdad, two bomb blasts in the historic Shorjah market, which dates to the Abbassid era over 700 years ago, killed at least two people and wounded at least 11, officials said.

A journalist said one bomb exploded in the perfume market and the second hit an area where clothes are sold.

The explosions sparked fires, the largest of which raged through the perfume market, sending a pillar of black smoke skywards.

Witnesses said gunmen attacked an army convoy north of Fallujah yesterday, sparking clashes, and security forces shelled two areas in the north of the city.

In the northern province of Kirkuk, a bomb killed two senior army officers, while other violence killed another two soldiers and a Sahwa anti-Al Qaeda militiaman.

And attacks in Nineveh province, also in the north, killed a policeman and two civilians.

Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Al Shahristani said on Wednesday that Iraq’s strategy for retaking the city currently consists of surrounding it and waiting for militants to run short of weapons and equipment.