Archive for January, 2014

A nervous calm grips Fallujah, but clashes nearby

January 11, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) — Residents started to trickle back to the besieged city of Fallujah on Friday as militants and government forces both appear to be preparing for a long standoff. Al-Qaida-linked fighters and tribal gunmen are camped on the outskirts of the city, with Iraqi army and police stationed nearby.

A tense calm has settled over the city, although sporadic street fighting rattled Ramadi and surrounding areas in Sunni-dominated Anbar province, a vast desert region west of Baghdad that was once a major battleground for U.S. troops.

The extremist militants, emboldened by fellow fighters’ gains in the civil war in neighboring Syria, have tried to position themselves as the champions of Iraqi Sunnis angry at the Shiite-led government over what they see as efforts to marginalize them.

Violence spiked after the Dec. 28 arrest of a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges and the government’s dismantling of a year-old Sunni protest camp in Ramadi, the provincial capital, and Iraqi police were forced to retreat from the city centers as black masked gunmen overtook Fallujah and parts of Ramadi last week, burning down police stations and posting guards outside strategic areas.

Iraqi troops have taken up positions in and around both cities but have not launched major urban offensives, fearing that likely civilian casualties could incite Sunni anger and push moderate tribal leaders to side with the extremists.

Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari told The Associated Press on Friday that the government’s patience would not last forever. “If there is no other solution, then the security forces and allied tribal fighters will enter these cities,” al-Askari said.

Clashes broke out again Friday, this time between Iraqi special forces and militants in the village of al-Bubali, between Fallujah and Ramadi. Roadside bombs planted around the village damaged several army vehicles, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Central areas of Fallujah, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, have been calm in recent days, according to accounts from residents and international observers. That could be an indication that at least some al-Qaida fighters heeded a call by influential tribal leaders earlier in the week to pull out of town or face confrontations not only with the army but also with fellow armed Sunnis who want the outsiders gone.

Many of the al-Qaida fighters and some armed local tribesmen who want to keep government forces out are now stationed in largely unpopulated areas on the outskirts of Fallujah, overlooking approaches to the city from the main highway that connects Baghdad with Syria and Jordan.

But other anti-government gunmen, their faces hidden by scarves, remain on the streets of the city in an intimidating show of force meant to prevent Iraqi forces from militarily retaking the city and deter would-be bank robbers and other looters.

Some residents have started to return to Fallujah, often only briefly to check that their houses are safe. Markets have begun to reopen as well, restoring some sense of normalcy to the city. But the situation remains tense, with many police stations abandoned after they were torched by militants and health care facilities running short on supplies.

“The government services and medical situation in Fallujah is very bad because of the absence of civil servants and policemen. The tribal gunmen are in control of the city,” said Dhari al-Arsan, deputy governor of Anbar, who lives in Fallujah.

International observers have warned of shortages of food, fuel and other necessities, particularly in Fallujah. United Nations records show that more than 11,000 families have been uprooted by the fighting throughout Anbar.

The U.N. envoy to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, described the situation in Fallujah as “very, very fluid” and said the city remains under the control of various armed groups. “Restoring order to Fallujah, pushing the terrorist elements out of the cities, delivering humanitarian aid: these would be the immediate priorities,” he said in an interview.

He praised the level of cooperation at both the national and local level in finding a way out of the crisis. “The U.N. is getting very good cooperation with the government, the local authorities and the tribes,” he said.

Pawel Krzysiek, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the “humanitarian situation is still dire” in Fallujah, though not as dramatically so as during the peak of the fighting. The Red Cross has managed to deliver some emergency supplies in Anbar but needs greater access from all sides to ensure aid gets through, he said.

On Friday evening the U.N. Security Council held a public meeting to read out a statement condemning the Ramadi and Fallujah attacks by an al-Qaida affiliate, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, and praised Iraqi security forces, local police and tribes in Anbar combating them.

“The Security Council reiterates that no terrorist act can reverse the path towards peace, democracy and reconstruction in Iraq,” it said. Determining exactly who all the gunmen are and where their loyalties lie remains a challenge. It is in many ways a parallel to the various factions of Sunni fighters among the rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In addition to the al-Qaida fighters who overran Fallujah and Ramadi last week, many of whom do not hail from the cities, local anti-government tribesmen have taken up arms. Some but perhaps not all claim to oppose al-Qaida’s extremist ideology.

Other armed tribesman are firmly opposed to al-Qaida’s presence in the area. Among them are members of the Sahwa, a government-supported militia that joined the U.S.-led fight against al-Qaida insurgents during in the years following the 2003 invasion and is widely credited with helping beat back al-Qaida in the past. In many cases, those tribesmen may have family links with the anti-government local militiamen and for now appear to be avoiding clashing with them.

“The situation is so complicated because you’ve got the tribal groups who are allied with the government … and other groups … against the government who are fighting Iraqi government forces and al-Qaida,” said Erin Evers, a Mideast researcher for Human Rights Watch, which has been monitoring the fighting by speaking with residents in the affected areas. “We don’t have a clear enough picture or even clear casualty figures. People who are ending up in the hospital, we don’t know who killed them.”

Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha, a powerful Anbar tribal leader who heads the Sahwa, told the AP on Friday that he believes he has enough fighters and weapons, some supplied by the Iraqi army, to confront the al-Qaida militants.

He alleged that some of the militants have been using civilians as human shields, making his men reluctant to try to confront them head-on because of concerns about civilian casualties. The situation in Ramadi remains more volatile. Burned-out armored vehicles and police cars line the highway where an anti-government protest camp stood until it was demolished by government forces in late December.

Scattered clashes continue to erupt in different parts of the city, including a number of gunbattles that broke out late Thursday and again on Friday, according to local and international officials. The risk of violence has persuaded residents to shelter indoors at night.

“Ramadi turns into a ghost town after sunset,” al-Arsan said.

Schreck reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Associated Press writer Peter James Spielmann contributed reporting from the United Nations.

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Iraq: Fighters urged to go as supplies run short

January 09, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) — Tribal leaders in the besieged city of Fallujah warned al-Qaida-linked fighters to leave to avoid a military showdown, echoing a call by Iraq’s prime minister Wednesday that they give up their fight as the government pushes to regain control of mainly Sunni areas west of Baghdad.

The warning came as gunmen attacked an Iraqi army barracks in a Sunni area north of Baghdad, killing 12 soldiers. Seven soldiers were wounded in the assault in Diyala province, authorities said. The United Nations and the Red Cross, meanwhile, said Fallujah and nearby areas are facing mounting humanitarian concerns as food and water supplies start to run out.

Sectarian tensions have been on the rise for months in Sunni-dominated Anbar province as minority Sunnis protested what they perceive as discrimination and random arrests by the Shiite-led government. Violence spiked after the Dec. 28 arrest of a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges and the government’s dismantling of a year-old anti-government Sunni protest camp in the provincial capital of Ramadi.

Last week, al-Qaida-linked gunmen seized control of Ramadi and nearby Fallujah, cities that were among the bloodiest battlefields for U.S. forces during the Iraq war. The militants overran police stations and military posts, freed prisoners and set up their own checkpoints.

The United States and Iran have offered material help for the Iraqi government but say they won’t send in troops. Speaking in his weekly television address, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hinted of a possible pardon for supporters of al-Qaida’s local branch, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, if they abandon the fight.

“The war that is being fought by the Iraqi security forces, tribes and all segments of Iraqi society against al-Qaida and its affiliates is a sacred war,” he said. “I call on those who were lured to be part of the terrorism machine led by al-Qaida to return to reason.”

In exchange, he promised that his government will “open a new page to settle their cases so that they won’t be fuel for the war that is led by al-Qaida.” Iraq’s government has rushed additional troops and military equipment to Anbar and has been carrying out airstrikes in an effort to dislodge the militants.

Skirmishes between Iraqi forces and militants broke out on the outskirts of Fallujah and Ramadi again Wednesday, according to witnesses, and militants blew up a small bridge on the edge of Ramadi, officials in Anbar said. There was no immediate report of casualties.

At least four crew members were killed when a military helicopter crashed in Anbar, according to army and government officials in the province and state TV. The officials said the cause was poor weather conditions in the area and there was no indication militants brought it down. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.

Influential tribal leaders have been meeting to try to find a way out of the crisis and demanded that al-Qaida members holed up in Fallujah get out of town, said provincial spokesman Dhari al-Rishawi.

“They agreed on expelling ISIL from Fallujah. The told them to withdraw … or face an attack by the tribes and the army,” he said. That message was echoed over mosque loudspeakers late Tuesday, which also called on fleeing families to come back.

Al-Rishawi and residents reached by phone in Fallujah said at least some of the militants had left the city, which is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad. It was not clear how many had gone, or whether they were taking up new positions in different parts of the city.

“We, the residents and the tribes, don’t want al-Qaida in the city. We don’t want to see the same violence we saw when the Americans were here,” said Ayad al-Halbosi, a 22-year-old teacher in Fallujah.

Markets in the city began reopening Wednesday and some families returned to their homes, though residents complained of shortages of fuel and cooking gas. Civilian cars and trucks were seen on the road and traffic policemen were on the streets.

The militant gains in Anbar are posing the most serious challenge to the Shiite-led government since American forces withdrew in late 2011 after years of bitter warfare following the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led regime and propelled the formerly repressed Shiite majority to power.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke to al-Maliki for the second time this week, voicing support Wednesday for the Baghdad government’s effort to regain control of Fallujah. The White House said Biden encouraged al-Maliki to continue talks with local, tribal and national leaders and said Biden welcomed al-Maliki’s affirmation that Iraqi elections will occur as scheduled in April.

The U.N. envoy to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, warned that the humanitarian situation in Anbar is likely to worsen as military operations continue. Food and water supplies in Fallujah are beginning to run out, and more than 5,000 families have fled to neighboring provinces to escape the fighting, he said.

“The U.N. agencies are working to identify the needs of the population and prepare medical supplies, food and non-food items for distribution if safe passage can be ensured,” Mladenov said in a statement.

The International Committee of the Red Cross also voiced concerns about the growing risks to Anbar residents, particularly in Fallujah. Patrick Youssef, head of the Red Cross delegation in Iraq, warned that ongoing power outages and dwindling medical supplies could leave health care facilities unable to provide proper care.

“We are ready to deliver more life-saving supplies and other humanitarian aid immediately to the areas hardest hit,” Youssef said. “But we need to be given easier access and the necessary security guarantees.”

Tensions have been simmering in Iraq since December 2012, when the Sunni community staged protests to denounce what they say is second-class treatment by al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government. Al-Qaida militants, emboldened by the civil war in neighboring Syria, have sought to position themselves as the Sunnis’ champions against the government, though major Sunni tribes in Anbar and elsewhere oppose the group’s extremist ideology and are fighting against it.

Schreck reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed reporting.

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Attacks in Iraq kill 4 as siege in Anbar continues

January 07, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) — Officials say attacks in Iraq have killed at least four people as government troops continue their siege of two cities overrun by al-Qaida in western Anbar province.

Maj. Raid Emad Rasheed says a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden truck into a police station in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing two people there and wounding 55, some critically. A police officer says a roadside bomb struck an army patrol southeast of Baghdad, in the Madain area, killing one soldier and wounding another.

The officer says another bomb hit a patrol of pro-government, Sunni militiamen in Baghdad’s southeastern suburb of Jisr Diyala, killing one fighter and wounding four. A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to talk to media.

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Iraq city falls fully into hands of al-Qaida group

January 04, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) — The city center of Iraq’s Fallujah has fallen completely into the hands of fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, police said Saturday, yet another victory for the hardline group that has made waves across the region in recent days.

ISIL is also one of the strongest rebel units in Syria, where it has imposed a strict version of Islamic law in territories it holds and kidnapped and killed anyone it deems critical of its rule. Also on Saturday, it claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in a Shiite-dominated neighborhood in Lebanon.

Hadi Razeij, head of the Anbar province police force, said police had left the city center entirely and had positioned themselves on the edge of town. “The walls of the city are in the hands of the police force, but the people of Fallujah are the prisoners of ISIL,” he said, speaking on Arabic language satellite broadcaster al-Arabiya.

Fallujah, along with the capital of Anbar province, Ramadi, was a stronghold of Sunni insurgents during the U.S.-led war. Al-Qaida militants largely took both cities over last week and have been fending off incursions by government forces there since.

In a speech in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said government forces would press on to clear the province of militants. “There will be no retreat until we eliminate this gang and rid the people of Anbar of their evil acts,” he said. “The people of Anbar asked the government for help, they called us to come to rescue them from terrorists.”

Dozens of families were fleeing Fallujah, sheltering in schools in nearby towns, provincial official Dari al-Rishawi told The Associated Press. It appeared there was a shortage of fuel inside the city and that and food prices had doubled because supplies could no longer enter.

Hundreds of ISIL fighters were in the city, he added, mostly armed with heavy mounted machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. On Saturday, Sunni tribesmen seeking to push out ISIL had yet to enter the city.

The U.S. State Department expressed its concern in a statement, saying it would continue to work with Iraqi authorities and tribes allied against ISIL “to defeat our common enemy.” “We are also in contact with tribal leaders from Anbar province who are showing great courage as they fight to eject these terrorist groups from their cities,” Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said.

Government troops, backed by Sunni tribesmen who oppose al-Qaida, have encircled Fallujah for several days, and have entered parts of Ramadi. On Friday, troops bombarded militant positions outside Fallujah with artillery, a military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to release information.

Anbar province, a vast desert area on the borders with Syria and Jordan with an almost entirely Sunni population was the heartland of the Sunni insurgency that rose up against American troops and the Iraqi government after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. The insurgency was fueled by anger over the dislodgment of their community from power during Saddam’s rule and the rise of Shiites. It was then that al-Qaida established its branch in the country.

Fallujah became notorious among Americans when insurgents in 2004 killed four American security contractors and hung their burned bodies from a bridge. It, Ramadi and other cities remained battlegrounds for the following years, as sectarian bloodshed mounted, with Shiite militias killing Sunnis.

In the end however local tribes managed to defeat the insurgents and the area had been calm for several years.

Deb Riechmann contributed from Washington

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Al-Qaida sweep in Iraq cities revives battleground

January 03, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) — Two Iraqi cities that were strongholds of Sunni insurgents during the U.S. war in the country are battlegrounds once more after al-Qaida militants largely took them over, fending off government forces that have been besieging them for days.

The overrunning of the cities this week by al-Qaida’s Iraqi branch in the Sunni heartland of western Anbar provinces is a blow to the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Malik. His government has been struggling to contain discontent among the Sunni minority over Shiite political domination that has flared into increased violence for the past year.

On Friday, al-Qaida gunmen sought to win over the population in Fallujah, one of the cities they swept into on Wednesday. A militant commander appeared among worshipers holding Friday prayers in the main city street, proclaiming that his fighters were there to defend Sunnis from the government, one resident said.

“We are your brothers from the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant,” militants circulating through the city in a stolen police car proclaimed through a loudspeaker, using the name of the al-Qaida branch. “We are here to protect you from the government. We call on you to cooperate with us.”

Government troops, backed by Sunni tribesmen who oppose al-Qaida, have encircled Fallujah for several days, and have entered parts of the provincial capital Ramadi, also overrun by militants. On Friday, troops bombarded militant positions outside Fallujah with artillery, a military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to release information.

Anbar province, a vast desert area on the borders with Syria and Jordan with an almost entirely Sunni population was the heartland of the Sunni insurgency that rose up against American troops and the Iraqi government after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. The insurgency was fueled by anger over the dislodgment of their community from power during Saddam’s rule and the rise of Shiites. It was then that al-Qaida established its branch in the country.

Fallujah became notorious among Americans when insurgents in 2004 killed four American security contractors and hung their burned bodies from a bridge. It, the provincial capital Ramadi and other cities were repeatedly battlegrounds for the following years, as sectarian bloodshed mounted, with Shiite militias killing Sunni.

Finally, major Sunni tribes turned against al-Qaida, forming militias that fought alongside American troops — bringing an easing of the bloodshed in 2008, before the American withdrawal at the end of 2011.

But 2013 has been the deadliest year since, with a resurgence of violence after al-Maliki’s government in April violently broke up a protest by Sunnis against discrimination by Shiite authorities. Sunni anger further flared after authorities this past week arrested a senior Sunni politician and dismantled a months-old sit-in in Ramadi over the past week.

As a concession, al-Maliki on Wednesday pulled the military out of Anbar cities to give security duties to local police, a top demand of Sunnis who see the army as a tool of al-Maliki’s rule. But al-Qaida militants promptly erupted in Fallujah, Ramadi and several nearby towns, overrunning police station, driving out security forces and freeing prisoners.

Since then, militants have dug in in the cities, setting up checkpoints in streets and waving black al-Qaida banners. Al-Maliki called in military reinforcements and sought the support of Sunni tribal fighters, who oppose al-Qaida though they still mistrust the government.

Government official Dhari al-Rishawi told The Associated Press that clashes were still underway on Friday, saying the militants remain in control of Fallujah and some parts of Ramadi. On Thursday, government warplanes fired Hellfire missiles — recently supplied by the United States — at some militant positions.

So far, casualties from the fighting since Wednesday are not known. On Friday, two policemen were killed and six other wounded when their patrol was attacked by gunmen in speeding cars outside Fallujah, a police officer and a medical officials said on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release the information.

Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.

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Iraq army to quit tense cities after protest cleared

Baghdad (AFP)
Dec 31, 2013

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki Tuesday announced the army would leave cities in Anbar province, apparently seeking to defuse simmering tension after security forces cleared a major anti-government protest camp.

Deadly clashes erupted Monday as security forces tore down the sprawling Sunni protest camp near Ramadi city, west of Baghdad, and sporadic fighting continued for a second day, leaving a total of at least 14 people dead.

Monday’s removal of the camp near the Anbar provincial capital was a victory of sorts for Maliki, who had long wanted it gone and had termed it a “headquarters for the leadership of Al-Qaeda”.

But while the camp’s closure removed a physical sign of deep-seated grievances among Sunni Arabs, it leaves underlying issues unaddressed and is likely to inflame widespread anger among the minority community.

In a move seemingly aimed at calming tensions, Maliki announced Tuesday the army would leave cities in Anbar, a demand made by MPs who submitted their resignations the previous day.

He called on “the armed forces to devote themselves to… pursuing Al-Qaeda hideouts in the desert of Anbar” and for the army to turn over “the administration of the cities to the hands of the local and federal police,” his office said.

Maliki also praised the camp’s closure, saying it was shut down in cooperation with the local government and tribal and religious leaders.

In another move apparently aimed at placating Anbar residents, the cabinet decided Tuesday to provide aid to the province.

The oil, trade and health ministries were to provide food, fuel and medical items, and other ministries would also give “support and necessary services to Anbar province,” the cabinet said.

The violence continued in the Ramadi area on Tuesday, where fighting killed three gunmen and an Iraqi army sniper, while three militants were wounded, police and a doctor said.

Sporadic clashes

An AFP journalist in Ramadi reported sporadic clashes in the area, which was under curfew, and said items including food and petrol were in short supply.

Security forces killed 10 gunmen on Monday in the Ramadi area during clashes as the protest camp was taken down, while violence also spread to the nearby city of Fallujah.

There was also political fallout, with 44 MPs, most of them Sunnis, announcing they had submitted their resignations.

They called for “the withdrawal of the army from the cities and the release of MP Ahmed al-Alwani,” a Sunni who was arrested during a deadly raid on Saturday.

The raid on Alwani’s house, which sparked clashes that killed his brother, five guards and a security forces member, also raised tensions.

While fighting broke out in the Ramadi area as the camp was closed, it was ultimately shut down without the level of deadly violence that accompanied the last major security forces operation at a protest site.

On April 23, security forces moved on a protest camp outside the northern town of Hawijah, triggering clashes that killed dozens of people, sparking a wave of revenge attacks and sending death tolls soaring.

The camp on the highway outside Ramadi, where the number of protesters had ranged from hundreds to thousands, included a stage from which speakers could address crowds, a large roofed structure and dozens of tents.

Protests broke out in Sunni Arab-majority areas of Iraq late last year after the arrest of guards of then-finance minister Rafa al-Essawi, an influential Sunni Arab, on terrorism charges.

The arrests were seen by Sunnis as yet another example of the Shiite-led government targeting one of their leaders.

The demonstrations tapped into longstanding grievances of Sunni Arabs, who say they are both marginalized by the government and unfairly targeted by security forces.

While the government has made some concessions aimed at placating Sunnis, including freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of anti-Qaeda militiamen, underlying issues remain unaddressed.

Violence in Iraq has reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was emerging from a period of brutal sectarian killings.

Attacks in Baghdad province killed 12 people Tuesday, while more than 6,800 people have died in Iraq violence since the beginning of the year, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.

Source: Space War.

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Sunnis close Iraqi capital mosques in protest

November 23, 2013

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi Sunni religious leaders said Saturday they closed the sect’s mosques in Baghdad indefinitely to protest attacks targeting clerics and worshipers, highlighting the country’s deepening sectarian rift. The closures came as violence across the country killed 12 people Saturday.

Sheik Mustafa al-Bayati, a member of a council of senior Sunni scholars that issue religious edicts, said the decision taken Thursday came into effect Saturday. He said mosques would reopen Sunday. Many mosques appeared to comply. In Baghdad’s Sunni northern district of Azamiya, a banner at the closed gate of the hallowed Abu Hanifa mosque read: “The mosque is closed until further notice because of the targeting of imams, preachers and worshipers.”

The mosque closures were “prompted by the systematic targeting of and injustice against Sunni clerics, mosques and worshipers,” al-Bayati told The Associated Press. “Today, it is not forbidden to shed Sunni blood. … For 11 months we have been saying peacefully that we are facing injustice but the government closes its ears.”

He didn’t accuse any group of being behind the attacks, but said “the weakness of the security forces is exploited by (Shiite) militias.” Sunnis previously have closed mosques as a protest tactic in the southern province of Basra in September and in the northeastern province of Diyala earlier this month. The mosques later reopened after local authorities and tribal leaders promised to offer protection.

In a statement issued late Saturday, the members of the Sunni council said they wanted the government to establish security units formed by locals to protect mosques. The statement also demanded the government open an immediate investigation over the recent killings of Sunni clerics and that it release all detained Sunni clerics.

Al-Bayati said a panel of clerics and government officials would discuss the demands in the coming days. Sunnis dominated the government of Iraq for much of its modern history. They believe that the majority-Shiite government that came into power after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion treats them like second-class citizens.

Sunni discontent mounted after a bloody April raid by security forces on a protest camp in northern Iraq. Violence has spiked since, claiming at least 5,500 lives, according to the United Nations figures.

The bloodiest attacks, including waves of coordinated car bombs claimed by al-Qaida’s local branch, have targeted mainly Shiites. However, Sunnis also have been killed in apparent reprisals. On Friday, bombs targeted two Sunni mosques in Baghdad, killing four. Last week, gunmen killed a Sunni cleric as he left a mosque in western Baghdad, police said.

Violence continued Saturday across Iraq. In the northern town of Tuz Khormato, a suicide bomber set off his explosive belt near a line of people waiting to buy bread from a baker, Mayor Shalal Abdool said. A second bomber drove an explosive-laden car into the crowd that gathered after the first explosion, Abdool said. The two attacks killed 10 people and wounded 35, he said.

Tuz Khormato is about 200 kilometers (130 miles) north of Baghdad. Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded near a police checkpoint in the northern town of Tal Afar, killing a police officer and a civilian and wounding 10, police and hospital officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.

Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.

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