Tiktit: Gunmen seized part of a northern Iraqi town and nearby villages, while bombs killed at least seven people at a historic Baghdad market and set it ablaze, officials said.
A member of the Iraqi security force holds position during a gunbattle with anti-government fighters on February 3, 2014. Pic: AFP
The takeover in and around the Salaheddin provincial town of Sulaiman Bek yesterday comes as gunmen control all of one major city and part of another in the western province of Anbar in a stand-off that has lasted for weeks and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
It illustrates the scope of the security problems the country faces, the reach of militant groups and the inability of the armed forces to bring them under control.
The Sulaiman Bek violence began when militants armed with light and medium weapons attacked army positions and overran the town centre early yesterday, local official Talib al-Bayati said.
Some called over mosque loudspeakers for residents to leave, Bayati said, adding that soldiers subsequently surrounded the area and exchanged fire with militants.
Another local official, Shallal Abdul Baban, said militants were in control of western Sulaiman Bek and three nearby villages.
He reported sporadic clashes in the area, and said two policemen had been wounded.
The unrest followed a series of other attacks in the area, including one last July in which some 150 militants hit Sulaiman Bek with mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, and executed 14 Shiite Muslim truck drivers on a nearby highway.
The town was also briefly seized by militants in late April. In Baghdad, two bomb blasts in the historic Shorjah market, which dates to the Abbassid era over 700 years ago, killed at least seven people and wounded at least 21, officials said.
An AFP journalist said one bomb exploded in the perfume market and the second hit an area where clothes are sold.
The explosions sparked fires, the largest of which raged through the perfume market, sending a pillar of black smoke skywards.