The tit-for-tat violence in a town held up by George Bush, the US president, only a year ago as an example of progress towards peace in Iraq, graphically illustrates the challenge facing al-Maliki in bridging an ever-widening sectarian divide.


A doctor at the town's main hospital said: "I wish you can come and see all the bodies. They are lying in the grounds. We don't have enough space in the hospital. All of the victims were shot in the head.
"No less than 45 people were killed. I've never seen such a thing in my life."
Police rampage

"The local Tal Afar police have been confined to their bases and policemen from Mosul are moving there to replace them"

Wathiq al-Hamdani, provincial police chief
Witnesses said relatives of the Shia victims in Tuesday's lorry bombings broke into Sunni homes and killed the men inside or dragged them out and shot them in the streets.


General Khourshid al-Douski, the Iraqi army commander in charge of the area, said 70 were shot in the back of the head and 40 people were kidnapped.

The Iraqi army later moved into the Sunni areas to stop the violence and a curfew has been imposed, the officials said.

Ali al-Talafari, a Sunni member of the local Turkomen Front party, said the Iraqi army had arrested 18 policemen accused in the shooting rampage after they were identified by Sunni families. Shia militiamen also took part, he said.

Wathiq al-Hamdani, the provincial police chief, said: "The situation is under control now.
"The local Tal Afar police have been confined to their bases and policemen from Mosul are moving there to replace them."
In Tuesday's truck bombings in Tal Afar, one suicide bomber lured victims to buy wheat loaded on his truck in a Shia area of the town.
A second truck bomb exploded in a used car park. The attacks killed at least 55 people and wounded 185.
Tal Afar is 418km northwest of Baghdad.

Model of progress


In March 2006, Bush called Tal Afar a "free city that gives reason for hope in a free Iraq".


A year on, however, the city is beset by the same sectarian tensions between minority Sunnis and majority Shia that have killed tens of thousands in Iraq since the bombing of a revered Shia shrine in the town of Samarra in February 2006.


Violence has seen Shias and Sunnis flee previously mixed neighbourhoods, which are now largely segregated along sectarian lines.


Some Sunnis in Tal Afar have complained that the arrival of Shia-dominated security forces has led to oppression.