BAGHDAD - Reuters
Federal policemen stand guard while civilians inspect the damage at Zarzoor restaurant in Fallujah, 65 kilometers west of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, April 22, 2013. On Sunday evening, a bomb went off in a popular kebab shop in Fallujah killing eight and wounding tens, police said. AP Photo/ Bilal Fawzi
Thirteen gunmen died carrying out revenge attacks on army checkpoints in north Iraq on Tuesday after dawn clashes between protesters and security forces left 27 people dead, top army officers said.
The gunmen were killed in attacks on checkpoints in the Al-Rashad and Al-Riyadh areas of Kirkuk province, the officers said.
The attacks followed deadly fighting between security forces and protesters near Hawijah, also in Kirkuk province, in which 27 people were killed and about 70 wounded, the officers said.
According to the officers, the demonstration near the northern town of Hawijah was infiltrated by gunmen, but a protest organiser said no one wanted by security forces was present.
The organiser, Abdulmalik al-Juburi, said the Hawijah clashes sparked the revenge attacks.
"There have been fierce clashes which led to the killing of 13 revolutionaries against the policy of the government," Juburi said.
"When they heard the news about the killed and wounded in the sit-in, sons of the tribes from all the villages in Kirkuk cut the roads and attacked checkpoints and military headquarters and took control of some of the checkpoints for a short time," he said.
Protesters have taken to the streets in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq for more than four months, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and decrying the alleged targeting of their minority community by the Shiite-led authorities.
At least 26 killed after Iraqi forces clash with Sunni protesters
Clashes between Iraqi security forces and protesters killed 27 people on Tuesday, the deadliest showdown since Sunnis took to the streets four months ago calling for the Shiite premier to resign.
High-ranking Iraqi army officers said the demonstration near the northern town of Hawijah was infiltrated by militants but a protest organiser said no one wanted by security forces was present.
The clashes mark the worst eruption of violence between security forces and demonstrators who for more than four months have been calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and decrying the alleged targeting of their community by the authorities.
They broke out around 5:00 am (0200 GMT) when security forces entered an open area near Hawijah, west of Kirkuk, where demonstrations have been held since January, said senior army officers, who gave an overall toll of 27 people killed and around 70 wounded.
But accounts differed as to the spark for the bloodletting.
A brigadier general from the Iraqi army division responsible for the area said the operation was aimed at Sunni
militants from a group known as the Naqshbandiya Army, and that security forces only opened fire after they were fired upon.
A second officer said that 34 Kalashnikov assault rifles and four PKM machineguns were recovered at the scene.
Two soldiers were killed and seven wounded in the operation, while the remainder of the casualties were a combination of protesters and militants, the officers said.
Protesters, however, insisted the army had provoked the clashes.