Baghdad, 18 Jumadil Akhir 1434/27 April 2013 (MINA) – Sectarian tensions have escalated in Iraq, where the death toll from a four-day wave of violence has passed 190, officials said.

      Thousands of protesters gathered in cities across the country this week to voice their anger at the government of Nouri al-Maliki, calling on the prime minister to step down and an end to the discrimination against Sunnis, Al Jazeera reported as monitored by Mi’raj News Agency (MINA).

       “Iraq was at “crossroads” and i called for restraint,” Martin Kobler, a UN envoy, warned on Friday as violence continue.

      The media reported the comments came as bombings at four Sunni mosques in and around Baghdad killed four people and wounded 50 on Friday, according to an interior ministry official and medics.

      On Tuesday, the violence was the latest in a wave of violence that erupted  when security forces moved in against anti-government protesters near the Sunni northern town of Hawijah. The ensuing clashes left 53 people dead.

      On Friday, Sunni gunmen were also battling government forces  after they took over Suleiman Beg, a town in Salahuddin province north of Baghdad, in response to a deadly raid in the town of Hawija on Wednesday.

      Reporting from Baghdad, Al Jazeera’s Omar Al Saleh, said on Friday there were conflicting reports as to whether the armed groups or  government were in control of the town.

       “The armed men had pulled out of Suleiman Beg under a deal worked out by tribal leaders and government officials,” said Ahmed Aziz, the town’s municipal council deputy chief.  The men had swarmed into the predominantly Sunni Turkmen town on Wednesday after deadly clashes with security forces, who pulled back as residents fled.

       while a local official, Abdul Baban, said helicopter fire wounded six people on the roof of a house in Suleiman Beg early on Friday. The seizure of the town by the armed men came amid a surge of violence which began on Tuesday when security forces moved in against anti-government protesters near Hawijah.

      Al Jazeera’s correspondent said the situation is really escalating. He also said that community leaders had called on Sunni soldiers in the Iraq army to leave their posts if the government ordered them to attack Sunni areas. “I’ve been covering this story for more than four months; this is the first time I’ve seen armed men protecting the protests,” The correspondent reported.

clerics calls for dialog

      Thousands of protesters have called for the resignation of Maliki, and railed against authorities for allegedly targeting their community. Maliki himself warned of a return to “sectarian civil war” in remarks broadcast on state television on Thursday.

      Abdulghafur al-Samarraie and Saleh al-Haidari, leading clerics who respectively head the Sunni and Shia religious endowments, held a joint news conference on Wednesday in which they warned against sectarian strife and called for top politicians to meet at a Baghdad mosque on Friday.

      The meeting at the Umm al-Qura mosque was scheduled for 5pm (14:00 GMT) on Friday, but it was unclear who would attend. (T/P09/P03)

Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)


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