Iraq at crossroads, says UN ambassador

Iraq at crossroads, says UN ambassador

BAGHDAD - Agence France-Presse
Iraq at crossroads, says UN ambassador

Masked Sunni protesters wave Islamist flags at a rally in Fallujah. AP photo

United Nations envoy Martin Kobler warned April 26 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,” Kobler said in a statement.

Kobler spoke a day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned that the country was in danger of returning to “sectarian civil war.” Al-Maliki called on people “to take the initiative, and not be silent about those who want to take the country back to sectarian civil war.”

Bombs to mosques

The violence continued on April 26 as bombs exploded at four Sunni mosques in the Baghdad area after Friday prayers, killing four people and raising the death toll from a four-day wave of violence in Iraq to 195, officials said.

The violence began on April 23 when security forces moved in against anti-government protesters near the Sunni Arab northern town of Hawijah, near Kirkuk. The operation sparked clashes that left 53 people dead. Dozens more were killed in subsequent unrest, much but not all of it linked to April 23 clashes, bringing the death toll to 195 by April 26.

The violence is the deadliest so far linked to demonstrations that broke broke out in Sunni areas of the country more than four months ago. The protesters have called for the resignation of al-Maliki and railed against authorities for allegedly targeting their community.

Iraqi security forces, meanwhile, began moving back into the northern town of Sulaiman Bek after gunmen who seized it withdrew.

The gunmen pulled out of the predominantly Sunni Turkmen town in Salaheddin province under a deal worked out by tribal leaders and government officials, local official Shalal Abdul Baban and municipal council deputy chief Ahmed Aziz said. The gunmen had swarmed into Sulaiman Bek on April 24 after deadly clashes with security forces, who pulled back as residents fled.