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Gunmen seize Sunni town in central Iraq

By SINAN SALAHEDDIN

Associated Press

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BAGHDAD (AP) — Gunmen have taken over a Sunni town north of Baghdad after a firefight with security forces, exacerbating Iraq's recent turmoil, the country's Defense Ministry said on Thursday.

The seizure of the town of Suleiman Beg follows clashes between soldiers and Sunni protesters on Tuesday that set off fighting in Sunni towns in western and northern Iraq, leaving more than 100 people dead in clashes and other violence across the country since then. The unrest is heightening fears that Iraq could slide into full-scale sectarian fighting.

In its statement, the Defense Ministry said gunmen have taken control of the Suleiman Beg police station and other governmental buildings, and were deployed in the streets. It gave no other details on casualties.

On Wednesday, police and hospital officials reported fierce clashes in the town that resulted in the deaths of four soldiers and 12 others, including some gunmen.

The mayor of the city of Tuz Khormato, to which Suleiman Beg is administratively annexed, said security forces had laid siege to the small town and sporadic clashes were continuing Thursday. The official, Shalal Abdool, said there were further casualties among gunmen on Thursday, but he couldn't give numbers.

The town is about 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Baghdad.

Meanwhile in the northern city of Mosul, clashes erupted late Wednesday between gunmen and police in some districts. The fighting died down by Thursday morning after security forces brought the situation under control. Residents said the city is now largely quiet with many people staying home in fear.

Ten gunmen and four police officers were killed in the Mosul clashes, and 12 policemen were wounded, according to police and morgue officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

The turmoil is exacerbating an already sour political situation between Sunnis and the Shiite-led government. A Sunni politician who recently announced his resignation from the Cabinet on Thursday urged Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, to step down to calm the tensions.

"Iraq is in a dire situation now and that I believe that there must be serious solutions," Abdul-Karim al-Sammarraie told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "One of the solutions is the resignation of the prime minister and for him to leave the government to another who can run it temporarily. Otherwise the options for Iraq are only dangerous ones."

Al-Sammarraie is Iraq's minister of science and technology. He and Minister of Education Mohammed Tamim submitted their resignations this week in the wake of killings on Tuesday in the northern town of Hawija, where government forces cracked down on a protest leaving at least 23 dead including three soldiers. The government says those who were killed were militants who were using the protest grounds as a safe haven.

Al-Sammarraie said that Industry Minister Ahmed al-Karbouli also submitted his resignation. Al-Karboli was not reachable, but an official in his office confirmed the move. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make statements about the resignation to the media.

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Follow Sinan Salaheddin on twitter.com/sinansm





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