Clashes erupted in northern Iraq when security forces raided a rally site used by Sunni demonstrators early on Tuesday, killing at least 23 people and wounding dozens in an escalation likely to enrage protesters who have been rallying against the government for months.
The fighting broke out in the town of Hawijah, about 240 kilometers (160 miles) north of Baghdad. It is one of several overwhelmingly Sunni communities that have been the site of anti-government protests.
The rallies began in December and are presenting a stubborn challenge to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government.
There were conflicting reports on the casualties.
Iraq’s defence ministry said 20 people whom it described as “militants who were using the demonstration as a safe haven” were killed, along with an army officer and two soldiers.
Another nine members of the military were wounded, the ministry said in a statement. It initially described those killed as members of al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party.
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