KIRKUK Iraq (Reuters) - Sunni Muslim militants attacked a northern Iraqi village inhabited by Shi’ite ethnic Turkmens but were repelled, police said on Tuesday, highlighting a spike in sectarian bloodshed after stunning advances by jihadi fighters.
The militants were beaten back from the village of Basheer, 15 km (9 miles) south of the city of Kirkuk, after an hour of clashes with local militia and police forces assisted by forces from a nearby Kurdish autonomous region.
Police said Kurdish forces had travelled to Basheer from Kirkuk to help fight a mutual enemy - Sunni militants who were using mortars and machineguns to hit the village.
A senior Kurdish police brigadier was wounded and six of his bodyguards were killed in the clashes in Basheer, police said.
The government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite Muslim, is seeking to repel the Sunni militants who have seized several cities in the northern half of Iraq over the past week.
Maliki has asked Kurdish “Peshmerga” forces to help his campaign to repulse radical Sunni insurgents but the Kurds, who are suspicious of Baghdad, have also taken towns as Iraqi army forces have withdrawn from the north and west.
Iraqi officials in Baghdad close to Maliki have accused the Kurds of exploiting the conflict for territorial gain.
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other Sunni militants have swept through towns in the Tigris valley north of Baghdad in recent days but appeared to have halted their advance about an hour’s drive from the capital on Sunday as they tightened their grip on the north.
ISIL’s surge may pose the biggest security crisis to Iraq since the worst of the sectarian bloodshed that followed the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud in Tikrit and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Writing by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Mark Heinrich