13 dead as Iraq Sunni mosques close over unrest

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Attacks mostly targeting Sunni-majority areas of Iraq killed 13 people on Friday as the minority community shuttered countless mosques nationwide, complaining that security forces were failing to provide adequate protection.

The move follows a months-long surge in bloodshed, with the latest wave of violence leaving nearly 200 people dead in just the past week, that has forced Baghdad to appeal for international help in combatting militancy just months before its first general election in four years.

Officials have also voiced concern over a resurgent Al-Qaeda emboldened by the civil war in neighbouring Syria which has provided the jihadist network's front groups with increased room to plan operations in Iraq.

Attacks on Friday struck Sunni-majority areas in and around Baghdad, and the main northern city of Mosul, leaving at least 13 dead and 25 others wounded, security and medical officials said.

Four separate shootings and bombings in the capital, including one adjacent to a Sunni mosque, killed at least six people, while blasts in the nearby Sunni towns of Abu Ghraib and Tarmiyah left three others dead.

Further attacks near Mosul, a mostly Sunni city in restive Nineveh province, killed four people -- two soldiers and two policemen.

The unrest is part of a surge in bloodshed that has pushed violence to its highest level since 2008, when Iraq was recovering from the worst of its Sunni-Shiite sectarian war.

More than 5,800 people have been killed so far this year, according to an AFP tally based on reports from security and medical officials.

No group has claimed responsibility for the rise in violence, but Sunni militants linked to Al-Qaeda often carry out attacks both on Shiites and Sunnis, ostensibly in a bid to undermine confidence in the authorities.

In a move illustrating the heightened bloodshed, several Sunni mosques announced Friday that they were closing until further notice because of multiple attacks against Sunni Arab preachers, officials and places of worship.

Iraq's Sunni minority has also railed against alleged mistreatment of their community at the hands of the Shiite-led authorities, ranging from unwarranted arrests to the closing off of entire neighbourhoods.

"The state is claiming to fight terrorism, then they should preserve mosques and the lives of worshippers," said Abu Ahmed, a 65-year-old retired civil servant who attended a final prayer session at the Omar al-Mukhtar mosque in the west Baghdad neighbourhood of Yarmuk.

Referring to a decision by a senior committee of Sunni religious leaders, the mosque prayer leader, Zakaria al-Tamimi, said: "We are committed to the decision of the scholars' committee."

"The ball is in the government's court," the imam said. "We will see if it will stop supporting militants, displacing Sunnis, random arrests, if it will change and treat all citizens equally."

The government and security forces have insisted that the raids and operations carried out by soldiers and policemen are specifically targeted based on credible intelligence, and they insist that security forces are making progress in the battle against militancy.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has nevertheless called for Washington's help in the form of greater intelligence-sharing and the timely delivery of new weapons systems.

But diplomats, analysts and human rights groups say the government is not doing enough to address the root causes of the unrest, particularly frustration within the Sunni Arab minority.