World Bulletin/News Desk
At least 23 people were killed in Iraq on Monday in a series of car bombs in Shi'ite Muslim areas and militant attacks, medics and police sources said, taking the week's death toll to nearly 200 as sectarian violence intensifies.
The latest bout of blood-letting began when security forces raided a Sunni protest camp near Kirkuk last week triggering clashes that quickly spread to other Sunni areas including the western province of Anbar, which borders Syria and Jordan.
Iraq decided on Monday to close a border crossing with Jordan for two days starting on Tuesday due to "organisational issues", the interior minister said without giving any details.
It is the second time this year that authorities have ordered the closure of the Traibil border post in Anbar where Sunnis have been protesting against Iraq's Shi'ite-led government since December.
The demonstrations had eased in the past month, but this week's army raid on a protest camp in Hawija, near Kirkuk, 170 km north of Baghdad, angered Sunnis and appears to have given insurgents more momentum.
Early on Monday, at least nine people were killed and 40 wounded in two car bomb explosions in Amara, 300 km (185 miles) southeast of Baghdad.
The first of two blasts in Amara, ripped through a market where people were meeting to eat breakfast, and the second hit an area where day labourers were gathering to look for work.
Another car bomb was detonated in a market in Diwaniya, 150 km south of Baghdad, killing two people, police said.
"I was preparing to go to work when a big explosion shook my house and broke the glass in all the windows," said witness Widy Jasim. "I ran outside, the explosion was near my house and bodies were everywhere".
A bomb in a parked car went off near a busy market in Kerbala, killing at least three people. A further six people were killed in an explosion near a Shi'ite worship site in Mahmudiya, about 30 km south of Baghdad.
In Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, gunmen clashed with the army early on Monday, killing two soldiers and wounding three others, military sources said.
A sniper shot dead a soldier and wounded another while they were on patrol in Madaen in eastern Baghdad, police said.
The speaker of parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, himself a Sunni, proposed an initiative to avoid "the ghost of civil war and sectarian strife", calling on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his Shi'ite-led government to resign, dissolve parliament and prepare for an early parliamentary election.
Move by Kurd forces boosts tensions
Kurdish forces deployed to new areas of a disputed north Iraq province in what a top officer said Saturday was an attempt to move into oilfields.
The deployments increased already high tensions in Iraq, adding a long-running Arab-Kurd dispute over territory to a stand-off between Sunni Arab protesters and the country's Shiite-led government that has descended into bloody violence.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki pointed to the civil war in neighbouring Syria as the cause of what he termed renewed sectarian strife in Iraq, while the head of the Sahwa militia forces threatened all-out conflict if militants who killed Iraqi soldiers are not handed over.
"After consultations with the governor of Kirkuk, there has been a decision for peshmerga (security) forces to fill the vacuums in general, and especially around the city of Kirkuk," Jabbar Yawar, secretary general of Iraqi Kurdistan region's peshmerga ministry, said in a statement.
Oil-rich Kirkuk province and its eponymous capital are a key part of territory that Kurdistan wants to incorporate over strong objections from the federal government in Baghdad, a dispute diplomats and officials say is a major threat to long-term stability. Yawar said the peshmerga deployments were aimed at combating militants and protecting civilians, but Iraqi army officers ascribed other motives to the moves.
"They want to reach (Kirkuk's) oil wells and fields," Staff General Ali Ghaidan Majeed, the commander of Iraqi ground forces, told AFP.
He said the deployments were a "dangerous development" and violated an agreement that peshmerga forces and Iraqi soldiers would man joint checkpoints.
Another high-ranking Iraqi officer told AFP that "after the latest movements of the peshmerga forces, the army is on alert."
"The army sees the move of the peshmerga as a (political) manoeuvre and not to fill any vacuum."
"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," Maliki said. He also called in a statement for anti-government protesters to "expel the criminals who targeted Iraqi army and police forces," after five soldiers were killed near a protest site.Last Mod: 29 Nisan 2013, 17:45