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Iraq

Lethal bomb blast targets Sunni Muslim mosque in Iraq

A bomb blast has killed a Sunni cleric and five worshippers in Baghdad. Meanwhile, police and gunmen clashed in northern Iraq, leaving more than a dozen people dead.

An explosive device was detonated outside of a Sunni Muslim mosque north of Baghdad on Friday, killing six people, a day after the United Nations declared April the deadliest month in Iraq in nearly five years.

The blast at al-Ghofran mosque in Baghdad's al-Rashidiya district killed a Sunni Muslim cleric and five worshippers as they left Friday prayers. Another 31 people were wounded in the explosion, according to police and medics.

And in the northern city of Mosul, fierce fighting erupted at several security checkpoints, leaving nine police officers and four gunmen dead. Another seven police officers were wounded in the clashes.

On Thursday, the United Nations said that April was the deadliest month in Iraq since 2008. The UN Mission to Iraq said that 712 people had been killed and another 1,633 had been wounded by terrorist attacks and acts of violence in April. The last time Iraq had seen this level of violence was in June 2008, according to the UN.

Hawija crackdown sparks violence

Members of Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority have been protesting against the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki since December 2012. The Sunni protesters claim they're being politically marginalized by the Shiite majority.

State security forces raided a Sunni protest camp in the town of Hawija on April 23, sparking a wave of violence that has posed the greatest threat to Iraq's stability since the US military withdrawal in December 2011. Hawija is located 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of Baghdad.

The Defense Ministry said that 23 people, including three members of the security forces, were killed in the Hawija clash. The Ministry claimed that al Qaeda members as well as militants tied to deceased dictator Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party were among the dead.

But Iraq's Sunni prime minister, Saleh al-Mutlaq, disputed the Defense Ministry's account, claiming that 46 people were killed, including minors.

"We have found that extra and extensive force was used, and it was not needed," he said in an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday.

slk/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)