FALLUJA, Iraq, July 14 (Reuters) - Gunmen stormed the house of a Sufi Muslim cleric in Iraq’s western Anbar province on Wednesday, killing four people and wounding at least six others, police said.
The attackers, who were carrying machine guns, struck in the pre-dawn hours in a small town near the city of Falluja in an attempt to kill the three sons of the cleric, police said. The sons, who are soldiers in the Iraqi army, were not at the house at the time of the attack.
Three women and a child were killed when the gunmen broke in and started shooting at family members, police said.
"Suspects from al Qaeda threatened the cleric months ago ... They targeted him because his sons were soldiers," a police officer in Falluja said.
The cleric was not harmed in the assault.
Sufism, a branch of Islam associated with contemplation, is found in many parts of the Muslim world. It places a greater focus on prayer and recitation and its followers have tended to stay out of politics.
The mainly Sunni province of Anbar was at one stage a safe haven for Sunni Islamist insurgents like al Qaeda, but tribal leaders turned on militants in late 2006, formed anti-insurgent militias in 2007 with U.S. backing and restored relative calm.
Separately, two Iraqi army soldiers were killed and four others were wounded when attackers blew up a house in Baghdad’s western district of Abu Ghraib.
Overall violence has dropped sharply since the worst days of Iraq’s sectarian conflict in 2006-07 but bombings and shootings are still a regular occurrence, often targeting police and government workers.
Hundreds of people have been killed since an inconclusive March 7 parliamentary election that has yet to produce a new government.
No coalition won enough seats to form a majority government, and while Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs hold talks, insurgents appear to be taking advantage of the power vacuum. (Reporting by Fadhel al-Badrani, Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)