BAGHDAD (AP) — A bomb attack outside a Sunni mosque on Friday killed seven worshippers as Sunnis continued to hold demonstrations in Iraq to protest what they say is second-class treatment by the Shiite-led government.
Sunni mosques have been targeted in several recent attacks amid rising sectarian tension in Iraq following a deadly crackdown by security forces on a Sunni protest site in Hawija town last month. Since then, violence have been on the upswing, raising concerns that the nation is on a return to bloody fighting in the past decade that approached a state of civil war.
Police officials said the attack on the Sunni mosque occurred as worshippers were leaving mid-day prayers at al-Ghofran mosque in a primarily Sunni area of Rashidiya.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Al-Qaida's Iraqi branch, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, often attacks civilian targets, including mosques. It primarily targets Shiites as well as security forces. In the past, it has also struck Sunni targets in an attempt to re-ignite sectarian fighting. Shiite militias in the past also targeted Sunnis as sectarian fighting in 2006-2007, but they are not known to have carried out large-scale bombing attacks against Sunnis for years.
Many from Iraq's Sunni minority say they are marginalized and discriminated against by the Shiite-led government. They say they face discrimination, particularly in the application of a tough anti-terrorism law that they believe unfairly targets their sect.
Sunni anti-government protests continued in the western province of Anbar and several Sunni areas in Iraq, with thousands massing for Friday prayers.
In the western city of Fallujah, Sunni cleric Ahmed Delly lashed out at the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for ignoring his sect's demands and for adopting "sectarian policies harming the Sunnis."
In Samarra, Sunni cleric Mohammed Taha warned that the country is descending to civil war because of what he described as a-Maliki's dictatorship.
"Al-Maliki has brought the country to the abyss and he refused to meet our demands. This leaves us with two options: Either the civil war or the formation of our own (autonomous) region," said Taha during the Friday sermon.
Before midnight Thursday, gunmen and security forces clashed in several districts of the former Sunni insurgent stronghold of Mosul in northern Iraq, authorities said Friday.
Police and hospital officials said nine police and four militants were killed in the fighting in Mosul, one of the hardest areas to calm since bloodshed erupted after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Hospital officials confirmed the casualties for all the attacks. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to reporters.