Sunni insurgents overran parts of the city of Samarra in northern Iraq early on Thursday, bringing them within striking distance of a Shi’ite shrine that was previously the trigger for sectarian war.

The offensive is part of an escalating war between Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government and militants who have been regaining ground and momentum over the past year, particularly in the west of the country bordering Syria.

The Sunni militants blew up a police station around 25 km south of Samarra overnight, security sources said, killing several policemen before advancing on the city in pick-up trucks, raiding checkpoints on the way.

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