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Iraq

UN warns Iraq at crossroads after four days of violence

The United Nations has warned that Iraq is at a "crossroads" and has appealed for restraint. Four days of violence, including attacks near mosques, have killed 150 people.

Bombs exploded near mosques in Baghdad and north of the capital on Friday after four days of protests and fighting in Sunni areas in western and northern provinces. At least 150 people have been killed since Tuesday.

Roadside bombs exploded near the Sunni Kubaisi mosque, killing four people as they left after Friday prayers and in the Rashidiya district north of Baghdad, killing two people. A soldier was killed in a separate explosion outside Shahid Yousif mosque in the Shaab neigborhood. A bomb killed one person outside a Shiite mosque, police and medics said. No group claimed responsibility for any of the attacks.

The week's protests were sparked after troops moved into a Sunni protest camp in Hawija, near Kirkuk, 170 km (105 miles) north of Baghdad on Tuesday.

Militants then seized control of Suleiman Pek, a town 160 km north of Baghdad on Wednesday. They pulled back after reaching an agreement with the security forces. "We withdrew from these places in order to avoid bloodletting of our people because we know that the army wants to commit a new massacre similar to what happened in Hawija," tribal leader Jamil Al-Saqr said.

The next day, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned of a return to "sectarian civil war."

On Friday, UN envoy Martin Kobler issued a statement: "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."

In Iraq's predominantly Sunni provinces, religious leaders have called for the formation of a tribal army that would protect Sunni areas from attacks by government forces. Sunni cleric Najih al-Mizan protested at what he called the Prime Minister's "policies of tyranny and repression" and called on him to resign.

"We call upon our tribes to form an army that can protect us from a government that does not hesitate to kill its people," said al-Mizan. His call was repeated by Sunni cleric Ali al-Basra in Fallujah.

Thousands of Sunni Muslims protested in the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah after Friday prayers. It was their biggest show of strength since protests began last year.

Iraqi Sunnis have been protesting since December against what they see as the marginalization of their sect since the US-led invasion ten years ago overthrew Saddam Hussein and facilitated the election of majority Shiites to power.

jm/hc (Reuters, AP, AFP)