SUSPECTED Sunni Muslim militants killed four state-backed Sunni fighters in Iraq yesterday, security sources said.
It was reported that the killers viewed the fighters as collaborators with the Shiite-led government of a nation plagued by sectarian hatred.
Sunni-Shiite tensions in Iraq have been amplified in recent months by the conflict between mostly Sunni rebels and President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite-dominated forces in neighbouring Syria.
The four “Sahwa” militia fighters were killed in an attack on their headquarters on the outskirts of Garma, six miles east of Fallujah, a city in the western province of Anbar.
Gunmen also ambushed and kidnapped ten Sunni policemen near Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, a Sunni heartland bordering Syria.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni militant groups have been behind previous violence targeting security forces in a campaign to destabilise the Baghdad government, which they reject as illegitimate.
When Sunni-Shiite bloodshed was at its height in 2006-7, Anbar was in the grip of al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq, which has regained strength in recent months.
“Sahwa”, or “Awakening”, fighters are Sunni tribesmen who helped US troops subdue al-Qaeda in 2006. They are now on the government payroll and often targeted by Sunni militants.
In other violence, tribesmen clashed with security forces and set four of their vehicles ablaze after a woman and three of her young children were killed in an army raid north of Ramadi.
Minority Sunnis, embittered by Shiite dominance since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by US-led forces in 2003, have been staging street protests against Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki since December.
A bloody government raid on a Sunni protest camp in Hawija last month ignited a surge of violence. More than 700 were killed in April by a UN count, the highest figure in almost five years.
At least 72 people died in attacks on Friday, 43 of them in two bombings outside a Sunni mosque in the city of Baquba.