HAWIJA, Iraq, April 25 (UPI) -- At least 100 people were reported killed in three days of Iraq violence after government troops stormed a Sunni protest camp, igniting fierce sectarian clashes.
The fighting, which included soldiers from the Shiite-dominated government firing from helicopters on hiding Sunni gunmen, resulted in more than 50 deaths across the country's northern provinces Wednesday and about the same number in a Sunni northern town Tuesday, authorities said.
Tuesday's deaths were concentrated at a protest camp in Hawija, a town near Kirkuk, 100 miles north of Baghdad, where Sunni Muslims have protested for months against what they see as their marginalization under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Maliki has presided over an ostensible power-sharing government, but said several months ago he found it unwieldy and wanted to move to a majority government dominated almost exclusively by Shiites.
In 2006, Hawija was the site of lethal attacks against U.S. forces by Sunni insurgents.
Among the dozens of other people killed Wednesday were 11, mostly civilians, in a town near Tuz Khurmatu in the north-central Saladin province. Saladin's Sunni-dominated provincial government declared itself semi-autonomous within Iraq 18 months ago.
Deposed President Saddam Hussein was born in Saladin province.
Three soldiers were killed in a bomb blast near the oil refinery city of Baiji, also n Saladin province.
At least eight people were killed Wednesday evening in a car bomb explosion in a Shiite neighborhood north of Baghdad, authorities said. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast.
Two Sunni ministers quit Tuesday to protest the Hawija raid, which spawned widespread fighting across at least three provinces, and the largest bloc of Sunni lawmakers suspended participation in Parliament, The New York Times reported.
Maliki made no public comments about the escalating violence Wednesday, but said Tuesday, after being pressed by U.S. officials and the United Nations, he would open an investigation into the Hawija events and promised to hold military officers accountable for any mistakes.
Within hours, the committee made recommendations to compensate the victims, provide medical treatment and determine if security commanders were negligent.
Senior tribal leader Ahmed abu Risha in Anbar province, whose family started the Sunni tribal revolt against al-Qaida in late 2006, said that was unacceptable.
"Maliki should be prosecuted like Saddam Hussein for what he does to the people," Risha told the Los Angeles Times.