BAGHDAD – Suspected jihadist fighters on Thursday seized control of six districts in the central Iraqi city of Samara, eyewitnesses said.
The heavily armed fighters entered the city from several directions, using bulldozers to destroy a number of security force checkpoints, the witnesses said.
They were flying the black flag bearing the Islamic declaration of faith, which is used by al-Qaeda and by its ultra-hardline Iraqi offshoot, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
At least 25 Iraqi soldiers and 20 civilians were injured by gunfire, according to initial estimates.
Local people reported hearing ongoing fire fights.
Samara, 118km north of Baghdad, is largely populated by Iraq’s Sunni minority but is also home to one of Shiite Islam’s most important shrines.
The Golden Mosque which holds the tombs of two of the twelve Shiite Imams.
Sunni rebels, foremost among them ISIL, have controlled parts of the western province of al-Anbar since January, fighting off security forces and militiamen loyal to Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Over the past year Iraq has seen near-daily attacks targeting security forces and mainly Shiite civilian targets.
The UN estimates that 8,868 people were killed across the country in 2013, the highest annual death toll in five years. (dpa/NAN)