At least seven Sunni mosques and dozens of shops in eastern Iraq were firebombed on Tuesday, security sources and local officials said, a day after 23 people were killed there in two blasts claimed by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Ten people were also shot and killed in Muqdadiya, 80 km (50 miles) northeast of Baghdad, security and hospital sources said.
The rise of the Islamist militant group ISIS, which follows a Sunni jihadist ideology, has exacerbated a long-running sectarian conflict in the country, mostly between the Shiite majority and minority Sunnis.
A surge in such violence could undermine efforts by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a moderate Shiite Islamist, to dislodge the militants from large swaths of the north and west that they seized in 2014.
At least two Sunni mosques south of Baghdad were attacked last week after a Shiite cleric was executed in Saudi Arabia, triggering angry reactions in Iraq and neighboring Iran.
At the height of Iraq's civil war nearly a decade ago, such mosque attacks often unleashed revenge killings and counter attacks across the country.
Officials tried on Tuesday to head off further violence, condemning the mosque attacks as well as Monday's bombings which ISIS said had targeted Shiites.
Abdul Lateef al-Himayim, head of Iraq's government body overseeing Sunni religious sites, called them "a desperate attempt to destroy Iraqi unity", while the United Nations warned in a statement the mosque bombings could "take the country back into the dark days of sectarian strife".
Haqqi al-Jabouri, a member of the local council in Diyala province where Muqdadiya is located, said both types of attacks hurt the social fabric of the community. He blamed "undisciplined (Shiite) militias" for burning the mosques.
Shiite militias were crucial in keeping ISIS from overrunning Baghdad and southern Shiite shrines during their lightning advance across the Syrian border in 2014, and have supported Iraqi forces pushing back the militants, including from parts of Diyala.
Militia elements have been accused of human rights abuses against Sunnis, allegations the groups have repeatedly denied or blamed on rogue members.
Amal Omran, a Shiite member of the Diyala council, blamed the mosque attacks on "infiltrators" seeking to smear the image of the militias.
Witnesses said some of those killed on Tuesday had been shot inside their homes or dragged into the street and executed by gunmen wearing black and camouflage uniforms.
Police sources and local residents said the gunmen were patrolling Muqdadiya and warning families through loudspeakers to leave the city or face death.
Reuters could not verify these accounts.
"It's worse than hell. I hid my two sons under a pile of clothes inside a wardrobe to avoid being discovered," said Um Ibrahim, a Sunni widow who fled to nearby Khanaqin after seeing two mosques engulfed by black smoke.
The attacks occurred in the central districts of Mualimeen, Asri and Orouba, the security sources said.
نستخدم ملفات الكوكيز لنسهل عليك استخدام مواقعنا الإلكترونية ونكيف المحتوى والإعلانات وفقا لمتطلباتك واحتياجاتك الخاصة، لتوفير ميزات وسائل التواصل الاجتماعية ولتحليل حركة المرور لدينا...اعرف أكثر