Day of violence across Iraq leaves scores dead

Violence is running at its highest levels since 2006-2007, the height of the country's Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict. (AFP)

A wave of car bombs exploded across Baghdad on Saturday, killing more than 60 people, and militants stormed a university campus in western Iraq, security and medical sources said.

In total, there were a dozen blasts in mainly Shi'ite districts of the capital, the deadliest of which occurred in Bayaa, where a car bomb left 23 people dead, many of them young men playing billiards.

The six car bombings and one roadside bomb hit seven different areas of Baghdad, Agence France-Presse reported.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for any of the bombings.

The attacks came as security forces battled militants in the northern city of Mosul in clashes that killed 59 people.

And in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, militants took hundreds of students and staff hostage at a university, sparking an assault led by special forces to free them.

Anbar University

Militants stormed a university filled with hundreds of students in Iraq’s restive Anbar province Saturday, briefly taking students hostage before withdrawing from the school amid gunfire.

The militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group seized the Anbar University campus after killing its guards, Agence France-Presse reported the police as saying.

Officials said the gunmen have detained dozens of students inside the university dormitory.

The gunmen killed three police guards who tried to stop them at the university gate, officials told the Associated Press, adding that security forces have arrived at the scene and sealed off the area.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

Ahmed al-Mehamdi, a student who was taken hostage, said he awoke to the crackle of gunfire, looked out the window and saw armed men dressed in black racing across the campus. Minutes later, the gunmen entered the dormitory and ordered everybody to stay in their rooms.

“The gunmen took some students to other university buildings. For the rest of us, we are still trapped in our rooms and everybody is in panic, especially the Shiite students,” al-Mehamdi told The Associated Press in a phone interview from inside the dormitory.

Several hours later, gunmen left the university under unclear circumstances. Students then boarded buses provided by the local government to flee the school, though gunfire erupted as security forces attacked retreating militants, police said.

“We thank God that this crisis ended almost peacefully and no student was hurt as far as I know,” al-Mehamdi said by mobile phone from inside a bus that took him to safety.

Security forces try to free students

In an attempt to free the hostages, Iraqi security forces launched an assault on the jihadists based in the univeristy, an AFP journalist said.

Special forces were spearheading the attack, and heavy gunfire could be heard.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s forces have focused their military efforts against ISIS in the group’s stronghold of Anbar, a western province of Iraq.

However, ISIS is attempting to expand its reach in Iraq and on Thursday it deployed fighters in the city of Samarra, north of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

59 killed after Mosul clashes

Clashes between Iraqi security forces and militants killed 59 people in Mosul on Saturday, as heavy fighting in the northern city entered its second day, officials said.

The dead comprised 21 police and 38 militants, a police lieutenant colonel and a mortuary employee said.

On Friday, dozens of people including civilians were killed in fighting between Sunni Islamist insurgents and Iraqi government troops in  Mosul, a day after a curfew was imposed there, Reuters reported.

The fighting erupted in Mosul a day after government forces used helicopters to bomb militants and retake control of Samarra further to the south.

The insurgents have been gathering momentum over the past year in their conflict with Iraq’s Shiite Muslim-led government, particularly in western provinces bordering Syria such as Nineveh, of which Mosul is the capital.

Security sources said the militants advanced on Mosul from the northwest and deployed in large numbers in the west of the city, killing at least four riot policemen and three soldiers in separate clashes.

In southern Mosul, five suicide bombers stormed an arms depot and some managed to detonate their vests before being shot, killing eleven soldiers, the sources said.

In the village of Muwaffakiya near Mosul, two suicide car bombs exploded on Friday, killing six members of the Shabak minority that lives there and is often a target for Sunni Islamist insurgents.

Insurgent stronghold

Mohammed Ibrahim, a member of the security and defense committee in the provincial council of Nineveh, said the army had killed 105 militants and destroyed 20 of their vehicles mounted with machine guns, preventing them from holding ground.

It was not possible to confirm the death toll estimates.

By Friday evening, 90 percent of Mosul was back under government control, security sources said, and the army was still firing mortar rounds at remaining pockets of resistance.

Most of the militants withdrew into the desert, made their way to neighboring provinces or simply took cover among the local population.

(With AFP, Reuters)

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