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Iraq on brink as sectarian violence kills over 130

Sectarian violence killed more than 130 people across Iraq and left dozens of mosques damaged or in ruins.

india Updated: Feb 24, 2006 00:18 IST

Sectarian violence killed more than 130 people across Iraq and left dozens of mosques damaged or in ruins as the United States appealed on Thursday to Sunnis and Shi'ites to step back from the brink of civil war.

Dozens of bloody revenge attacks caused the death toll after Wednesday's suspected Al-Qaeda bombing of one of the holiest shrines in Shi'ite Islam.

President George W Bush stepped into the worst crisis since the US invasion, one that threatens efforts to form a stable, unity government and bring US troops home from Iraq.

"The voices of reason from all aspects of Iraqi life understand that this bombing is intended to create civil strife," Bush said as the military reported seven more US soldiers had been killed in two separate attacks on Wednesday.

Bush praised Iraqi leaders' public efforts to maintain calm.

The UN envoy also stepped in, asking Iraqi leaders to join him in a meeting. "I have invited political, religious and civil leaders to discuss confidence-building measures to ensure the situation remains under control," Ashraf Qazi said.

But the main Sunni political group said it pulled out of US-backed talks on forming a coalition after December's parliamentary election and leading clerics traded unusually frank sectarian criticisms that may do little to calm passions.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, pressed ahead despite the Sunni boycott with a meeting that he had called to avert a descent towards a civil war. After discussions with Shi'ites, Kurds and leaders of a smaller Sunni group, he told a televised news conference that if all-out war came "no one will be safe".

Among the dead were 47 people, apparently both Sunnis and Shi'ites, whom gunmen dragged from vehicles after they attended a demonstration to show cross-sectarian solidarity near Baghdad.

First Published: Feb 24, 2006 00:18 IST