KIRKUK, Iraq: Iraqi soldiers and police backed by helicopters and tanks Monday battled militants for control of a northern town that has repeatedly changed hands in recent days, officials said.
Militants Thursday took part of Sulaiman Bek and nearby areas in Salaheddin province, north of Baghdad, setting off a cycle of clashes with security forces.
Accounts of the death toll vary, but officials say that dozens of people have been killed, including security personnel, militants and civilians.
Local official Talib al-Bayati told AFP Monday that security forces had succeeded in regaining control of Sulaiman Bek and surrounding areas.
But another official, Shallal Abdel-Baban, said that only about 60 percent of the area was back in government hands.
Baban said security forces were advancing slowly, searching house by house, and that there were sporadic clashes as well as sniper fire from militants.
After initially seizing territory Thursday, militants were pushed back the following day.
But security forces then withdrew for unknown reasons, Bayati said, and the militants regained control of part of the town Saturday and later made further gains.
The situation in Sulaiman Bek is a small-scale version of the crisis playing out in the mostly Sunni Anbar province west of Baghdad, where anti-government fighters have held the city of Fallujah and part of Ramadi for weeks.
The takeovers in Anbar mark the first time anti-government forces have exercised such open control in major cities since the bloody insurgency that followed the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
More than 370,000 people may have been displaced by the Anbar violence, according to the U.N.
Sulaiman Bek has been hit by numerous attacks over the past year, and was briefly seized by militants in late April.
In July, some 150 militants struck with mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, and executed 14 Shiite truck drivers on a nearby highway.
Violence in the country has reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a period of brutal sectarian killings.
In Baghdad, a series of bomb killed at least killed at least 19 people, officials said.
A wave of explosions rocked Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad shortly after sunset Monday, killing at least 19 people and wounding dozens, officials said.
The attacks, two carried out by parked explosives-laden cars and one by a bomb, hit crowded commercial areas near Shiite mosques.
The deadliest took place in the eastern Ur neighborhood where a car bombing killed at least 10 people and wounded 23 others, police said.
Another car exploded in central Karrada, killing eight people and wounding 25 others, police added. And one civilian was killed and seven were wounded in another explosion in the southwestern Amil area.
Two medical officials confirmed the causality figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to release information.