Baghdad: As many as 20 militants were killed in separate clashes in eastern Iraq, as the country continues to stave off a Sunni militant onslaught, security sources said Sunday.
The eastern province of Diyala witnessed security forces recapturing seven villages near Udheim city, north of provincial capital Baquba. The clashes there saw the death of nine militants, Xinhua quoted a provincial police source as saying.
Udheim and its surrounding rural areas have been the scene of fierce clashes between Sunni militants, mostly from the Islamic State outfit, and Iraqi security forces backed by Shia militiamen.
In another incident, Shia militants dragged the bodies of four suspected militants and hung them in four different areas across Baquba, the source said.
The bodies were reportedly of dead Islamic State fighters killed earlier in Maqdadiyah, 80 km northeast of Baghdad.
The Shia militiamen are affiliated with Asab Ahl al-Haq - or "League of the Righteous" - a splinter group of radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr`s Mahdi Army.
Separately, two Shia militiamen were killed in clashes with Sunni militants in Maqdadiyah, the source said.
In Balour near Maqdadiyah, two militants and a policeman were killed in clashes, the source added.
In the same province, seven policemen were wounded in a car bomb and a roadside bomb attack near Baquba.
Elsewhere, two women were killed in blasts at a popular market in Tuz-Khurmato, a police source said.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki`s government has been criticised by experts for its reputation of being unfair and not inclusive of the Sunni minority, stoking sectarian tension in the country.
The crisis in Iraq has taken a turn for the worse since June 10, when Sunni militant groups took control of Mosul, the second largest city, and then progressed to other areas in the north and central parts of the country.
The Islamic State, formerly known as Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), June 29 proclaimed an Islamic caliphate extending from the Syrian province of Aleppo to Diyala in Iraq, a measure which was rejected by other rebel groups in both countries.