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Gunmen seize part of Iraq town

14 February, 2014

TIKRIT: Gunmen seized part of a northern Iraqi town and nearby villages Thursday, while bombs killed at least two people at a historic Baghdad market and set it ablaze, officials said.

The takeover in and around the Salaheddin provincial town of Sulaiman Bek 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 on Thursday, 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 Shia 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 two people and wounded at least 11, 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.

United Nations Iraq envoy Nickolay Mladenov warned Thursday of dire conditions in Fallujah, a city in Anbar to the west of Baghdad that gunmen have controlled, along with parts of provincial capital Ramadi, since January.

"I am particularly concerned about the rapidly deteriorating conditions in Fallujah where many residents are caught up in the fighting," Mladenov said in a statement.

"The UN continues to urge for humanitarian access to the city."

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