Last updated: 15 February, 2014

Overnight Iraq violence kills 16 soldiers and police

Eighteen Iraqi soldiers and police have been killed in targeted attacks and clashes, officials and doctors said Saturday, as the country struggles to contain its worst violence in years.

Meanwhile, militants Saturday held part of the northern town of Sulaiman Bek, after security forces withdrew despite reportedly making gains in a battle for control of the area the day before.

Most of the casualties occurred overnight.

In the city of Tikrit, north of the capital, gunmen lured a police colonel out of his house, shot him dead, and fled the area.

And militants shot dead four soldiers and wounded three who were driving in a civilian vehicle on the main highway in the area.

In Sulaiman Bek, a police captain was stopped by militants and shot dead on his way to pick up relatives in the town and evacuate them to safety.

In the Jurf al-Sakhr areas south of Baghdad, five soldiers died in clashes with militants.

And a bomb killed five police guarding a pipeline in Baiji, north of the capital.

On Saturday, meanwhile, gunmen killed a policeman and a soldier in separate attacks in the Sharqat area, also north of Baghdad.

The security forces, who suffer from often-lacking training and discipline, are the target of near-daily attacks by anti-government militants.

Gunmen initially seized part of Sulaiman Bek and nearby areas in Salaheddin province Thursday, but officials said security forces regained ground there in heavy fighting the following day.

Local official Talib al-Bayati told AFP security forces had succeeded in retaking militant-held areas on Friday, but then withdrew for unknown reasons.

On Saturday, gunmen were in control of the town’s Al-Askari neighbourhood, he said.

Sulaiman Bek has been hit by numerous attacks over the past year, and was briefly seized by militants in late April.

In July, 150 militants struck with mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, and executed 14 Shiite Muslim truck drivers on a nearby highway.

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

Another 22 people died in attacks and clashes earlier on Friday.

Foreign leaders have urged the Shiite-led government to do more to reach out to the disaffected Sunni Arab minority to undercut support for militants.

But Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has taken a hard line ahead of a general election scheduled for April.