Gunmen kill 7 Iraqi soldiers in central Iraq


BAGHDAD (AP) — Gunmen killed at least seven soldiers in central Iraq on Thursday, officials said, in the latest episode of violence to hit the country in a particularly bloody month.

The first skirmish took place in the early hours of Thursday when militants attacked an army check point in the town of Taji, killing four soldiers and wounding four others, two police officers said. The militants fled the area after a brief gunbattle and did not suffer any casualties, they said.

Taji is a former insurgent stronghold, located about 12 miles (20 kilometers) north of the Iraqi capital.

At dawn, another group of militants exchanged fire with military forces and pro-government Sunni militia in the western village of Karma, near the city of Fallujah, two other police officers said. Three soldiers were killed and 18 were wounded, including seven Sunni fighters.

The Sunni fighters were from the pro-government group known as Sahwa, which joined with U.S. troops in the war against al-Qaida at the height of Iraq war. Ever since, it has been a target for Sunni insurgents who consider them traitors.

Fallujah is located about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad.

Two health officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

The attacks followed a spike in violence that has left nearly 300 dead over the past 10 days. Alarmed by a nationwide deterioration in the security situation, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered a reshuffle in senior military ranks.