Shiite militants and police enraged by deadly truck bombings went on a shooting rampage against Sunnis in a northwestern Iraqi city Wednesday, killing as many as 70 men execution-style in the latest eruption of sectarian violence outside the capital.
The gunmen began roaming Sunni neighborhoods in the city, shooting at residents and homes, according to police and a local Sunni politician.
Ali al-Talafari, a Sunni member of the local Turkomen Front Party, said the Iraqi army had arrested 18 policemen accused of being involved after they were identified by the Sunni families targeted. But he said the attackers included Shiite militiamen.
He said more than 60 Sunnis had been killed, but a senior hospital official in Tal Afar put the death toll at 45, with four wounded.
The hospital official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns, said the victims were men between the ages of 15 and 60, and they were killed with a shot to the back of the head.
Police said earlier dozens of Sunnis were killed or wounded, but they had no precise figures, and communications problems made it difficult to reach them for an update. The shooting continued for more than two hours, the officials said.
Army troops later moved into the Sunni areas to stop the violence, and a curfew was slapped on the entire town, according to Wathiq al-Hamdani, the provincial police chief and his head of operations, Brig. Abdul-Karim al-Jibouri.
Meanwhile, suicide truck bombers carrying highly toxic chlorine were blocked from attacks on the government center in Fallujah on Wednesday but detonated their explosives, wounding about 15 U.S. and Iraqi security forces, the American military said.
The statement did not give a breakdown of Iraqi and U.S. forces wounded but said other "Iraqi soldiers and policemen were being treated" for breathing troubles, nausea, skin irritation and vomiting — symptoms of chlorine gas inhalation.
No U.S. or Iraqi forces were killed, the military said.
Tal Afar, located 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, is in the province of Ninevah, of which Mosul is the capital.
"The situation is under control now," said al-Hamdani. "The local Tal Afar police have been confined to their bases and policemen from Mosul are moving there to replace them."
Al-Jibouri said he was heading to Tal Afar to take charge of the situation.
Twohit markets in Tal Afar on Tuesday, killing at least 63 and wounding 150 in the second assault in four days on a predominantly Shiite Muslim city hit by a resurgence in violence a year after it was held up as a symbol of U.S. success.
After Tuesday's bombings, suspected Sunni insurgents tried to ambush ambulances carrying the injured out of the northwestern city but were driven off by police gunfire, Iraqi authorities said.
The carnage was the worst bloodshed in a day of attacks across Iraq.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Iraqis detained in the U.S.-led security crackdown in Baghdad are being held in two detention centers designed to hold at most a few dozen people, The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing an Iraqi monitoring group.
The report said 705 people were packed into an area built for 75 at one of the detention centers, in the town of Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad. The other center, on Muthana Air Base, held 272 people, including two women and four boys, in a space designed to hold about 50.
Officials from the monitoring group said they did not know the sectarian composition of the detainee populations.
In other developments: