TIKRIT, Iraq (Reuters) - At least 17 people were killed in attacks across Iraq on Sunday as troops fought to evict Islamist militants from the northern town of Sulaiman Pek, security sources and medics said.
Armored vehicles and special police forces with heavy machineguns arrived in Sulaiman Pek to reinforce troops battling there for several days backed by helicopters gunships.
“Clashes are continuing today in the town centre,” the town’s mayor, Talib Mohammed, told Reuters. “The situation is still unclear. We can’t even look out of the window, as bullets and blasts are not stopping.”
Militants raised the black flag of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - a hardline Sunni group also fighting in neighboring Syria - over parts of Sulaiman Pek, 160 km (100 miles) north of Baghdad, on Thursday.
Sunni militancy has been on the rise over the past year, especially in the western province of Anbar, where the army is besieging the city of Falluja, overrun by insurgents on January 1.
A suicide car bomber blew himself up near a police checkpoint on Sunday, killing one person in the al-Warrar area west of Anbar’s provincial capital Ramadi. Police said they had thwarted another attack east of Ramadi, shooting dead a suicide bomber driving a police vehicle previously seized by militants.
No group claimed responsibility for any of the latest attacks, but Sunni insurgents trying to undermine the Shi‘ite-led government often attack police and military targets.
Gunmen killed five people at a police checkpoint in Taza, a town 210 km north of Baghdad, a local police source said.
In the town of Shirqat, 300 km north of the capital, at least two policemen were killed when gunmen fired on their patrol, police sources said.
A car bomb killed four people in the mainly Shi‘ite Chkouk district in northern Baghdad, police and medical sources said.
In other attacks, police said two mortar rounds hit a house, killing a civilian, in Jurf al-Sakhar, 60 km south of Baghdad, where the army is also fighting militants.
Gunmen using silenced weapons shot a man and his son dead near their home in central Hilla, south of Baghdad. In the town of Muqdadiya, 80 km northeast of Baghdad, gunmen killed two government-backed Sunni militiamen in drive-by shooting.
Reporting by Ghazwan in Tikrit and Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk; Additional reporting by Ali al-Rubaie in Hilla and Kareem Raheem in Baghdad; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Isabel Coles and Alistair Lyon