x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Iraq: 28 dead in clashes, bombing as tensions rise

Nearly two dozen people have been killed in clashes between the army and armed Sunni tribesmen who had sealed off a central Iraqi town, as an outbreak of violence killed 28 people across the country.

BAGHDAD // Nearly two dozen people were killed yesterday in clashes between the army and armed Sunni tribesmen who had sealed off a central Iraqi town, as an outbreak of violence killed 28 people across the country.

The fighting came a day after security forces stormed a Sunni protest camp in the town of Hawija, sparking deadly fighting and a spate of other attacks, mostly targeting Sunni mosques, that killed at least 56 people.

The unrest has heightened Sunni-Shiite tensions and raised fears that the country could be headed toward a new round of sectarian violence.

Yesterday's fighting broke out after tribesmen blocked roads leading to the town of Qara Tappah, about 120 kilometres north-east of Baghdad. Fierce clashes erupted when Iraqi troops arrived to clear the city, and helicopters fired on the gunmen. Police said 15 tribesmen and seven soldiers were killed.

In other violence, three gunmen were killed when they attacked a security checkpoint near the former Al Qaeda stronghold of Mosul, about 360 kilometres north-west of Baghdad.

Later, a car bomb struck a police patrol north of Baghdad, killing a policeman and two civilians, according to police.

Hospital officials confirmed the casualty figures.

The raid on Tuesday in Hawija drew harsh condemnations from Sunni leaders and foreign diplomats, raising fears that Iraq is being pushed back toward all-out sectarian fighting like the underlying conflicts in the civil war in neighbouring Syria.

Iraq's defence ministry said it entered the protest area to try to make arrests over an attack on a nearby checkpoint several days earlier, and its forces came under heavy fire from several types of weapons, as well as snipers.

The bloodshed followed four months of largely peaceful protests staged by Iraq's Sunni minority against the Shiite-led government.

Iraqi Sunnis say they face discrimination, particularly in the application of a tough antiterrorism law that they believe unfairly targets them.