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Three Iraqi presidential guards kidnapped near northern town: sources

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Three members of Iraq’s presidential guard were kidnapped on Friday near a checkpoint run by Shi’ite militiamen close to the northern district of Tuz Khurmatu, police and a local official said.

Four other people, including a government employee, were killed in separate incidents, the police said, in and around the district - about 175 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad - where violence has flared in recent months.

Kurdish and Shi’ite Turkmen paramilitary forces have been uncomfortable allies against Islamic State since driving the ultra-hardline Sunni militants out of towns and villages in the area in 2014 with the support of U.S.-led airstrikes.

The tensions risk further fragmenting Iraq as it struggles to contain Islamic State, the biggest security threat since a U.S.-led invasion toppled autocrat Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Efforts to push back the insurgents have been complicated by sectarian and ethnic rivalries, including a contest for territory which the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad claims, but the Kurds want as part of their autonomous region in the north of the country.

The presidential guards were traveling in a private vehicle toward Baghdad when they were taken by unknown gunmen around midday, said Mahdi Taqi, a member of the provincial council in Salahuddin where the district is located. Police from Tuz Khurmatu confirmed the details.

Separately, gunmen opened fire on a car carrying guards from the electricity ministry, killing one and critically wounding four others, police said.

Three civilians were killed in two separate incidents, and two others were also kidnapped.

Reporting By Stephen Kalin; editing by Ralph Boulton