05/02/2013, 00.00
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Sunni-Shia confrontation pushes Iraq back to the brink of war

In one month, more than 460 people are killed in suicide attacks and clashes, the worst level of violence since US troops pulled out in 2011. New incidents are reported in Anbar province and the cities of Ramadi and Baiji, north of Baghdad, with more than 20 dead. Mostly due to Sunni groups, attacks target anti-terrorist Sahwa militia and police.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Sectarian strife between Sunni and Shia Muslims is getting worse in Iraq. At least 22 people were killed in attacks across Iraq on Wednesday.

To the north of the capital, gunmen attacked a police station and occupied it after killing five police officers.

In the western province of Anbar, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives vest in a group of government-backed Sunni "Sahwa" fighters who were collecting their salaries, killing 14 in a town about a hundred kilometres east of the city of Falluja,.

Since it was set up in 2005, the "Sahwa" has been the target of constant attacks by Sunni extremist groups fighting the government of Shia Prime Minister al-Maliki, who is accused of marginalising their religious sect, which ruled Iraq under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

In Baiji, 180 km north of Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed four policemen. A car bomb in a Shia district in northeastern Baghdad killed at least three people, wounding scores more. Another car bomb north of the city of Ramadi, which is 110 kilometres west of Baghdad, killed two policemen and wounded another ten.

The recent spate of attacks follows a month of clashes between Sunnis and Shiites that peaked with provincial elections on 20 April with over 460 people killed in a month. This is the worst level in violence since US troops withdrew in 2011. Fourteen candidates, mostly Sunni, are among the dead.

On 26 April, four bombs exploded in front of Sunni mosques in Baghdad, packed for Friday prayers, killing four and wounding more than 50.

Several analysts and politicians, including the al-Maliki, have linked the violence in Iraq to Syria's civil war, where several Iraqi jihadist groups are fighting with the rebels against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the Alawi minority, which is linked to Shia Islam.

Riots and attacks have not spared Iraqi Kurdistan, where, for months, Kurds have been in a fight with the central government over oil.

Here the government used the army to oust Sunni fighters from an area south of Mosul, with dozens of deaths among military and militias.


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