BAGHDAD, July 27 (Xinhua) -- A total of 20 people were killed and some 15 others wounded in separate clashes and bomb attacks across Iraq, security sources said on Sunday, as the country continues to stave off a militant Sunni Islamist insurgency.
In Iraq's eastern province of Diyala, Iraqi security forces backed by military aircraft recaptured seven villages near the city of Udheim in the north of the provincial capital city of Baquba, clashing with fighters and killing nine militants, a provincial police source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
Udheim and its surrounding rural area have been the scene of fierce clashes for weeks between Sunni militants, including those who are linked to the Islamic State (IS), an al-Qaida offshoot, and Iraqi security forces backed by Shiite militiamen.
In a separate incident, Shiite militants dragged the bodies of four suspected Sunni armed attackers and hung them in four different areas across the city of Baquba, showcasing the dead IS fighters who were killed earlier in the battlefield city of Maqdadiyah, the source said.
The Shiite militiamen are affiliated with Asa'b Ahl al-Haq, or "League of the Righteous," a splintered group from the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. They are part of what the U.S. and Iraqi officials earlier named "Special Groups," who were allegedly funded, trained and armed by Iran's Quds Force during the U.S. occupation of Iraq and later became allied to the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
The grotesque exhibition reflects the increasingly sectarian nature of the violence and is a worrying sign for Iraq as it faces a large-scale Sunni insurgency that threatens to split the country apart.
Separately, two Shiite militiamen were killed and two others wounded in clashes with Sunni insurgents in Maqdadiyah, the source said.
In the village of Balour, near Maqdadiyah, a police force clashed with militants, leaving two militants and a policeman dead, the source added.
Also in the province, a total of seven policemen and two civilians were wounded in a car bomb and a roadside bomb attacks in and rear Baquba, he said.
Elsewhere, two women were killed and four other people wounded when two bombs exploded at a popular market in the city of Tuz- Khurmato, a local police source told Xinhua.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government has been criticized by regional experts and analysts for its reputation of being unfair and not inclusive of the Sunni minority, stoking sectarian tensions in the deeply divided nation.
Lawmakers are struggling to form a new government that is representative of Iraq's diverse political factions and ethnic groups. The recent advancements made by the largely Sunni Islamist insurgency threatens to split the country, prompting world powers to press for an "inclusive" government in the war-torn country.
The security situation began to drastically deteriorate in Iraq on June 10 when bloody clashes broke out between the Iraqi security forces and hundreds of Sunni militants who took control of country's northern city of Mosul and later seized swathes of territories after the Iraqi security forces abandoned their posts in Nineveh and other predominantly Sunni provinces.