BAGHDAD – Iraqi soldiers backed by tanks retook control of a Sunni town north of Baghdad on Friday after gunmen withdrew without a fight, although violence continued in other parts of the country.
The Sunni gunmen had seized Suleiman Beg on Thursday after a firefight with security forces, one in a string of similar incidents that have killed more than 150 people in clashes in Sunni Muslim towns in western and northern Iraq over the past four days.
The fighting has raised concerns about the spread of sectarian clashes in Iraq, whose government is now dominated by the Shiite majority which Sunnis charge mistreats them.
Police and military officials said that army units entered the town after negotiations with local tribal leaders.
The recent unrest in the country followed a deadly security crackdown on a Sunni protest in the northern town of Hawija four days ago.
Meanwhile, police said a bomb blast hit Sunni worshippers as they were leaving a mosque in western Baghdad after the end of Friday prayers, killing 5 worshippers and wounding 22 others. Minutes later, a Sunni was killed and six others were wounded after bomb struck Sunnis near a mosque in the Rashidiyah area, 20 kilometers north of the capital.
Medics in nearby hospitals confirmed the death toll. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to media.
Last Friday, a pair of bombs struck outside a Sunni mosque north of Baghdad, killing at least 11 people. There was no claim of responsibility for the attacks against Sunni mosques, which have now happened for two Fridays in a row.
Al-Qaida's Iraqi branch, Known as the Islamic State of Iraq, frequently carries out attacks against civilian targets such as mosques, markets and restaurants.
The terrorist group mainly target Shiites, but it has in the past also struck Sunni targets in an attempt to reignite the sectarian strife that pushed the country to the brink of civil war in the years following the 2003 U.S. led-invasion.