Iraq violence spills into fifth day

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Sectarian tensions have escalated in Iraq, where the death toll from a wave of violence has passed 200, officials and reports have said. On Saturday, the fifth consecutive day of protests, gunmen killed four army intelligence soldiers and wounded a fourth in Ramadi, West of Bgahdad. “Four soldiers in civilians clothes have been killed and a fourth injured near a protest site in Ramadi,” said Al Jazeera’s Omar Al Saleh, reporting from Baghdad.
“The men were stopped by gunmen protecting the protest. It’s not clear how things developed and what led to the killing. Some say they were intelligence agents, others say they were soldiers on leave and were stopped,” he said. Five other people, members of an anti-al-Qaeda group, were also killed south of Tikrit, our correspondent said. Later, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki renewed a call for calm and said sectarian strife had returned to Iraq from elsewhere in the region. In televised remarks, Maliki said: “Sectarianism is evil, and the wind of sectarianism does not need a licence to cross from a country to another, because if it begins in a place, it will move to another place. “Strife is knocking on the doors of everyone, and no one will survive if it enters, because there is a wind behind it, and money, and plans.” His office also released a statement vowing he would not remain silent over the earlier killing of soldiers, and called on peaceful protesters to “kick out the criminals that target army and police.”
Daily protests: Our correspondent in Baghdad said while sectarian tension was intense between political parties, it did not affect “ordinary people – not enough to raise alarms”.
“But all parties are trying to polarise their communities on a sectarian basis; there is a fear that things could go wider,” he said.
Thousands of protesters have gathered in cities across the country this week to voice their anger at the government, calling on the prime minister to step down and an end to the discrimination against Sunnis.
Martin Kobler, a UN envoy, warned on Friday that Iraq was at “crossroads” and called for restraint as violence continues.
The comments came as bombings at four Sunni mosques in and around Baghdad killed four people and wounded 50 on Friday, according to an interior ministry official and medics.
The attacks were the latest in a wave of violence that erupted on Tuesday when security forces moved in against anti-government protesters near the Sunni northern town of Hawija. The ensuing clashes left 53 people dead.