BAGHDAD (AP) — Gunmen singled out seven Shiite Muslims and shot them in Iraq's north while they were out swimming in a targeted sectarian attack, officials said Saturday.

Shalal Abdoul, mayor of the town of Tuz Khormato, said the attack happened outside the nearby Shiite Turkoman village of Amerili. The attackers arrived on motorcycles and executed the Shiites after separating them from Sunni Arabs, whom they allowed to go free, he said.

"The terrorists want to ignite sectarian strife in our area. Today's attack carries a sectarian message," Abdoul said.

Tuz Khormato is about 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of Baghdad. Tuz Khormato police Capt. Mazin Abdullah confirmed the attack.

Violence has ebbed in Iraq since its height between 2005 and 2008, but lethal attacks continue to occur almost daily. Attacks against Iraqi Shiites are often blamed on al-Qaida's Iraqi branch, which has declared its intention to take back areas from which the U.S. and its local allies expelled the militants.

Most Iraqi Shiites are Arabs. Turkomen are one of the country's minority ethnic groups, and they include both Sunnis and Shiites.

Also Saturday, Iraq's prime minister urged northern neighbor Turkey to deal with his country through the central government in Baghdad, criticizing Ankara's direct outreach to Iraq's self-ruling Kurdish region.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a statement that Iraq rejects efforts by Turkey to treat the minority Kurds' northern territory "as if it is an independent state."

He added that if Turkey wants to maintain good regional relations, it must do so through Iraq. The statement says al-Maliki made the comments during an interview with a Turkish television channel.

Iraq warned Turkey in July that a deal it has to import Kurdish-produced oil is illegal. Relations deteriorated further earlier this month when Turkey's foreign minister paid a surprise visit to the contested Iraqi city of Kirkuk after meeting Kurdish leaders.


Associated Press writers Yahya Barzanji in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, and Adam Schreck in Baghdad contributed to this report.