Overnight Iraq violence kills 16 soldiers and police officers

Security forces are frequently targeted with bombings and shootings by militants opposed to the government

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Attacks and clashes in Iraq killed 16 soldiers and police overnight, as the country struggles to contain its worst violence in years, officials and doctors said Saturday.

And gunmen held part of the northern town of Sulaiman Bek, after security forces withdrew despite reportedly making gains in the area on Friday.

Five soldiers were killed during clashes with militants in the Jurf al-Sakhr area south of Baghdad on Friday night, while a bomb killed five police in Baiji, north of the capital.

Gunmen also killed a police colonel in his home in the city of Tikrit, also north of Baghdad, and shot dead four soldiers on the area's main highway.

And militants killed a police captain who was attempting to evacuate his family from the town of Sulaiman Bek.

Security forces are frequently targeted with bombings and shootings by militants opposed to the government.

Militants initially seized part of Sulaiman Bek and nearby areas in Salaheddin province Thursday, but officials said security forces gained ground 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 neighborhood, 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.

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