Middle East

UN calls for restraint in Iraq after days of clashes

Anti-government protesters in the Iraqi town of Falluja (26 April 2013)
Image caption Thousands of Sunnis protested in Falluja against the Shia-led government

The UN envoy to Iraq has called for restraint by all sides amid a wave of violence that has left more than 150 people dead since Tuesday.

Martin Kobler urged leaders "not to let anger win over peace", warning that their country was "at a crossroads".

Earlier, at least five people were killed by a series of bomb blasts at Sunni mosques in the capital, Baghdad.

Government forces also entered the northern town of Suleiman Beg, a day after it was seized by Sunni gunmen.

Officials said the gunmen had withdrawn after a deal with tribal leaders.

The incident followed clashes in several Iraqi towns and cities, which were sparked by an army raid on an anti-government protest camp near another northern town, Hawija, on Tuesday that left 50 people dead.

Although the violence is below the heights of the insurgency in 2006 and 2007, it is the most widespread since US troops withdrew in 2011.

Cleric's warning

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shia whose resignation the protesters in Hawija had demanded, has said Iraq is in danger of returning to "sectarian civil war".

The warning was echoed on Friday by Mr Kobler, who said: "I call on the conscience of all religious and political leaders not to let anger win over peace, and to use their wisdom, because the country is at a crossroads."

Tens of thousands of Sunnis took to the streets of the towns of Ramadi and Falluja, in the western province of Anbar, following Friday prayers to express their anger at the alleged targeting of their community.

In Ramadi, a cleric wearing military uniform gave security forces 24 hours to leave the town, warning that he would not be responsible for what happened after that, according to the Reuters news agency.

Meanwhile, a bomb exploded outside a Sunni mosque in a southern district of Baghdad, killing four worshippers at the end of Friday prayers.

Minutes later, at least one other person was killed by another blast near a mosque in the Rashidiya area, 20km (12 miles) north of the capital.

A soldier was also killed in a third bombing outside a Sunni mosque in the north-eastern Shaab district of Baghdad, according to Reuters. A bomb also reportedly killed one person outside a Shia mosque nearby.

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