U.N. calls for restraint in Iraq as 200 killed

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United Nations envoy Martin Kobler warned on Friday that Iraq is at a “crossroads,” calling for restraint as a wave of violence has killed more than 190 people in four days.

“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,” AFP reported Kobler as saying in a statement.

Kobler spoke a day after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned that the country was in danger of returning to “sectarian civil war.”

Maliki, from Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority, called on people “to take the initiative, and not be silent about those who want to take the country back to sectarian civil war.”

Maliki’s statement came as residents of a number of Sunni cities in Iraq have announced on Thursday the formation of “military forces” to counter attack the Iraqi army and its crackdown against protesters calling for Maliki – a Shiite – to step down, Al Arabiya’s correspondent said.

The newly formed anti-government tribal army in the western Sunni province of Anbar was deployed in a protest square in Ramadi city after the withdrawal of the Iraqi army, Al Arabiya reported on Friday.

The country was torn by Sunni-Shiite fighting in 2007-2008 in which thousands of people were killed each month.

The latest trouble began on Tuesday when security forces moved in against anti-government protesters near the northern Sunni Arab town of Hawijah, sparking clashes that left 53 people dead.

Escalating violence

Bombs exploded at four Sunni mosques in and around Baghdad on Friday, killing four people and wounding 50, an interior ministry official and medics said.

The bombers struck after the main weekly prayers as four days of violence that have killed more than 190 people raised fears of a return to all-out sectarian conflict.

A bomb exploded inside al-Kubaisi mosque in south Baghdad, killing four people and wounding 36, while bombs near al-Shaheed Yusif and Malik al-Ashtar mosques in the north of the capital wounded at least 11, the official and medics said.

A fourth bomb went off near al-Razzaq mosque, north of Baghdad, wounding at least three people.

Iraqi security forces began moving back into a northern town on Friday after gunmen who seized it two days ago made an agreed withdrawal, officials said.

The gunmen pulled out of Sulaiman Bek in Salaheddin province early in the day under a deal worked out by tribal chiefs and government officials, local official Shalal Abdul Baban and municipal council deputy chief Ahmed Aziz told AFP.

The gunmen swarmed into the predominantly Sunni Turkmen town on Wednesday after deadly clashes with the security forces, who pulled back in the face of the offensive as residents fled.

Army Staff General Ali Ghaidan Majeed told AFP on Thursday that the gunmen had been given 48 hours to withdraw or face attack.

Majeed said at the time that intelligence information indicated there were about 175 gunmen in Sulaiman Bek -- 25 allegedly from Al-Qaeda, and 150 from the Naqshbandiya Army, another Sunni militant group.

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