At least 15 killed in clashes in northern Iraq: mayor

BAGHDAD, Iraq Wed Apr 24, 2013 10:38am EDT

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (Reuters) - At least 15 people were killed in clashes between Iraqi security forces and militants on Wednesday in the northern town of Sulaiman Pek, the mayor of a nearby town said.

Four army helicopters were bombing the center of Sulaiman Pek 160 km (100 miles) north of the capital Baghdad, to drive gunmen out of the town, witnesses told Reuters by telephone.

"The clashes between Iraqi security forces and the militants started last night," said Shalal Abed, the mayor of Tuz Khurmato via phone from Sulaiman Pek. He said the two sides were still fighting.

Ten militants and five soldiers were among the dead, he said.

Thousands of Sunnis have held weekly rallies since December to protest against what they see as marginalization by Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government and security forces who they say have unfairly targeted them.

Government forces' raid on a Sunni Muslim protest camp in the town of Hawija on Tuesday triggered fierce clashes there and stoked fears of renewed violence.

(Reporting by Suadad al-Salhy; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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