Iraqi police have recovered at least 50 bullet-riddled bodies of people believed killed to avenge a bomb attack on an important Shia Muslim shrine. A curfew has been called in the capital Baghdad and dozens of Sunni mosques have been attacked across the country.
A prominent Arab reporter and her crew have been killed in Samarra, where they had gone to cover the attack on the shrine in the central Iraqi city. Iraq's leaders are warning publicly about the dangers of a civil war.
"We are facing a major conspiracy that is targeting Iraq's unity," President Jalal Talabani said. "We should all stand hand in hand to prevent the danger of a civil war."
The attack on the al-Askari shrine takes the danger of a civil conflict to a new level, the BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen says. Iraq has seen a wave of violence following the bombing of the shrine, which is one of Shia Islam's holiest sites. Gunmen open fire on a Sunni mosque in the town of Baquba on Thursday, killing one person and wounding two At least 11 people are killed after gunmen masquerading as police abducted them from a Basra jail on Wednesday
Iraq's main Sunni Arab political group boycotts a meeting called by the president to discuss the crisis. A bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol kills 12 people in Baquba
The journalists for the Dubai-based al-Arabiya TV had gone to Samarra to report on the bombing and the angry protests that followed. Correspondent Atwar Bahjat's body was among the three found early on Thursday about 15km (10 miles) north of the city, police said. The deaths come amid a wave of anger over the bombing, which destroyed the 100-year-old golden dome of the shrine. The killings of the prisoners in Basra followed clashes in the city between followers of firebrand Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Sunnis. Iraqi political and religious leaders have all called for calm. But a spokesman for Iraq's top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said the anger may be hard to contain.
"You wouldn't expect an abrupt or sudden calm, because there are some people whose reaction you can't control," London-based spokesman Fadel Bahar al-Eloum told the BBC.
Our correspondent says the assault on the shrine could multiply the danger and the violence. An attack on a shrine is a direct assault on the identity and rights of an entire community, our correspondent says. He says a civil war would destroy the chances of the elected central government, which will be led and dominated by Shias when it is formed.
Civil war could lead to the break-up of the country, and would export even more instability and violence across the wider Middle East and beyond, he says.
BBCLast Mod: 00 0000, 00:00