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Iraqi Violence Escalates as Government Calls for Unity

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pleaded for unity after an escalation of attacks over the weekend. Violence continued on Monday as two car bombs exploded in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood.

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  • SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour Correspondent:

    It was a bloody weekend in Iraq, marked by sectarian killing and new warnings of civil war. On Sunday, Shiite gunmen went on an afternoon rampage, killing Sunni Arabs in the western Baghdad neighborhood of al-Jihad, located between the Green Zone and the Baghdad airport.

    Witnesses reported gunmen at fake checkpoints killing those with Sunni names. Some 40 bodies were collected from the streets, according to Iraqi police and hospital reports.

    IRAQI CITIZEN (through translator): Whoever was Sunni was dragged out and killed. They called me and told me I would find my husband at the morgue. Is this how it should be? Is this Islam?

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    Hours later came the retaliation. Two car bombs detonated outside a Shiite mosque in central Baghdad. At least 17 people were killed; three dozen more were wounded.

    The rise in the sectarian violence comes just seven weeks after a new unity government took office. And today, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appealed for all Iraqis to unite as brothers.

    National Presidential Security Adviser Wafiq al-Samaraie told Al-Jazeera Television today, "We are at the gates of civil war."

    While appealing for calm, President Jalal Talabani, who is Sunni, also warned that Iraq stood "in front of a dangerous precipice."

    During a NewsHour interview last month, Iraq's foreign minister said the sectarian violence was going to be the new government's biggest hurdle and that time is running out.

  • HOSHYAR ZEBARI, Iraqi Foreign Minister:

    I believe the next six months will be very crucial to test this government and what it can deliver; in terms of security; in terms of providing services; in terms of moving Iraq forward; being more self-reliant on security; building security forces. And these are serious challenges.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    But the new government's security crackdown in Baghdad has done little to stem the violence in the capital. Today, black-clad Shiite militiamen were on the streets, guarding against more revenge attacks, even as Iraqi police patrolled nearby.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And to Margaret Warner.

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