KIRKUK: Gunmen killed 14 truck drivers and stole their vehicles on a highway north of Baghdad on Thursday, while dozens of other militants attacked a nearby town, a local administrative official said.

The gunmen killed the drivers about 10 kilometres (six miles) south of the town of Sulaiman Bek, Mohammed al-Bayati said.

Militants have been attacking the town of Sulaiman Bek itself with mortar rounds and gunfire since Wednesday night, Bayati said.

The ongoing fighting also left one civilian wounded, he said.

Sulaiman Bek was briefly seized by militants in late April. The assailants later withdrew under a deal worked out by tribal leaders and government officials, allowing security forces to move back in.

The seizure of the town came amid a surge of violence that began on April 23 when security forces moved in against anti-government protesters near the northern Sunni Arab town of Hawijah, sparking clashes that left 53 people dead.

Dozens more died in a wave of subsequent unrest including revenge attacks against security forces.

With the latest violence, more than 670 people have been killed in unrest in July, making it the deadliest month in a year marked by spiralling violence.

Iraq has faced years of attacks by militants, but analysts say widespread discontent among members of its Sunni Arab minority, which the government has failed to address, has fuelled the surge in unrest this year.

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