Gunmen have killed five soldiers near a prominent Sunni protest camp west of Iraq's capital, Baghdad. A further five militiamen were shot at a checkpoint north of Baghdad.
Gunmen stopped a vehicle carrying soldiers near the main Sunni protest camp in Ramadi, west of Baghdad in the province of Anbar. A gun battle ensued leaving five soldiers dead and two of the attackers wounded, police officials said on Saturday.
A curfew was then announced for the whole province of Anbar and protest organizers in Ramadi were given a 24-hour deadline to hand over the gunmen responsible for killing the soldiers or face a "firm response," according to Maj. Gen. Mardhi Mishhin al-Mahalawi, the army's Anbar operations chief.
Members of the Muslim Sunni minority have been rallying for the past four months in several Iraqi cities. They are protesting what they describe as unfair treatment by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government.
Gunmen also opened fire on a checkpoint manned by government-allied Sunni "Sahwa" fighters near the city of Tikrit, 130 kilometers north of Baghdad. Five of them were killed. The Sahwa are among those who joined with US troops to fight al-Qaida during the Iraq war. Sunni insurgents regard them as traitors.
At least 150 people have been killed in fighting since Tuesday. In a statement on Friday, UN envoy Martin Kobler said, "I call on the conscience of all religious and political leaders not to let anger win over peace, and to use their wisdom, because the country is at a crossroads."
On Friday in the capital, Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded near the Sunni Kubaisi mosque killing four worshippers as they left after prayers. Another Sunni mosque was targeted by a roadside bomb in the Rashidiya district north of Baghdad, killing two people.
A soldier was killed in a separate explosion outside Shahid Yousif mosque in the Shaab neighborhood. Also in Shaab, a bomb killed one person outside a Shi'ite mosque, police and medics said. No group claimed responsibility for any of the attacks.
jm /ccp (AFP, AP)