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Iraqi leader sounds warning about sectarian strife

By Mohammed Tawfeeq and Joe Sterling, CNN
updated 6:12 PM EDT, Thu April 25, 2013
Wounded Iraqi men rest in a hospital in Iraqi city of Arbil on April 25, 2013 after they were injured during violent clashes.
Wounded Iraqi men rest in a hospital in Iraqi city of Arbil on April 25, 2013 after they were injured during violent clashes.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Four people killed in clashes between gunmen and security forces, police say
  • Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki: "Everyone will lose if civil war breaks out"
  • Violence most recently raged in Mosul
  • Sunnis have been angry at the Shiite-led government

(CNN) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called for dialogue and resolve to halt the recent rise in violence across the country and avert a "civil war."

"We should not let those extremists ignite the sectarian strife in this country," he said Thursday in a nationwide address.

Over the past three days, nearly 100 people have been killed and hundreds of others wounded in clashes between Iraqi security forces and Sunni tribes in northern Iraqi provinces, including Salaheddin, Nineveh and Kirkuk.

In the latest clashes, gunmen and Iraqi federal police faced off Thursday night in the city of Falluja, a predominantly Sunni city in Iraq's Anbar province, Iraqi police told CNN.

At least four people were killed in fighting between gunmen and Iraqi security forces in the town of Qarataba, north of Baquba, police said.

Elsewhere, at least one person was killed and seven were wounded when a car bomb exploded near an outdoor market in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraqi police officials said.

Iraq, on edge over violence, endures more bloodshed

Al-Maliki called for dialogue among tribal leaders, government officials and security forces to stop the fighting from spiraling out of control and to keep the country's nascent democracy from unraveling.

The government Saturday held provincial elections throughout most of the country. There was minor violence during the vote, and the exercise was praised by international and Iraqi leaders.

Sunnis, who comprise a minority of Iraqis, had clout during the Saddam Hussein era but have been politically marginalized since his overthrow. Shiites, who make up a majority of Iraqis, dominate the government.

Since December, tens of thousands of Sunni demonstrators have taken to the streets, demanding that the Shiite-led government stop what they call second-class treatment of Iraq's Sunni community.

Deadly wave of bombings across Iraq ahead of elections

Iraq was engulfed by Sunni-Shiite sectarian warfare in the last decade, and al-Maliki reminded the country that "everyone will lose if civil war breaks out." State TV showed file video footage of people being tortured under Hussein's regime to remind Iraqis of past violence.

The latest violence occurred in Mosul, in Nineveh province.

Hundreds of Sunni tribe members attacked police checkpoints and security posts in a several neighborhoods, in protest against security force actions Tuesday in Hawija.

From Wednesday night through Thursday, federal security forces killed 31 "terrorists" and freed 17 police officers, said Mehdi al-Gharrawi, the commander of federal police in Mosul. At least eight police officers have been killed in the city since Wednesday, police said.

The situation has since been brought under control.

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