Middle East

Militants target Iraqi Sunni militia near Fallujah

Awakening Council fighters in 2008
Awakening Council fighters provide security in many areas of Iraq

At least 14 members of an anti-al-Qaeda Sunni militia have been killed in two attacks by militants near the western Iraqi city of Fallujah, officials say.

The Awakening Council fighters were reportedly attacked by a suicide bomber and with mortar fire as they gathered to collect their salaries.

Three soldiers were also killed when a roadside bomb hit their convoy in a separate attack not far from Fallujah.

The attacks came amid of spate of bombings across Iraq on Wednesday.

Elsewhere, a car bomb near the city of Ramadi killed two policemen while another car bomb in Baghdad's mainly Shia eastern suburb of Husseiniya claimed at least three more lives.

There are also reports of a roadside bomb in Baiji, north of Baghdad, killing four policemen.

Scores more people were injured in the attacks, which come amid a wave of violence that has left more than 200 dead in the past two weeks.

'Return of sectarian conflict'

At least 27 Awakening Council fighters were injured in Wednesday's attacks near Fallujah, reports say.

The councils, drawn from among Iraq's Sunnis, have been seen as a key factor in reducing violence across the country since 2006.

The local militias were set up to combat Sunni insurgents linked to al-Qaeda.

Tensions are high between Iraq's Sunni and Shia, amid claims by the minority Sunni communities that they are being marginalised by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Shia-led government.

Last week, Mr Maliki said sectarian conflict had returned to Iraq after erupting "in another place in this region" - an apparent reference to Syria.

At about the same time, Awakening Council chief Sheikh Wissam al-Hardan warned that if those responsible for killing soldiers in recent clashes were not handed over, it would "take the requested procedures".

Sunni Islamist militants linked to al-Qaeda have attempted to destabilise the government by stepping up attacks, mainly on Shia but also Sunni targets this year.

In recent weeks, more than 11 election candidates have been shot dead.

Although the violence is less deadly than that seen during the heights of the insurgency in 2006 and 2007, it is the most widespread since the US military withdrawal in 2011.