At least 33 killed in Iraq violence
A total of 33 people were killed Tuesday in an army crackdown on Sunni protesters and attacks on mosques in Iraq, said security officials, further inflaming the country's sectarian tensions, dpa reported.
At least 23 people were killed and dozens injured in clashes that followed soldiers' crackdown on anti-government protesters camping out in a public square in the town of Heweja, some 200 kilometres north of the capital Baghdad
The troops torched the protesters' tents and shot at them, witnesses said.
The Defence Ministry said its troops had to respond to alleged shots fired by insurgents on the site.
It added that storming the square came after the "failure of all peaceful initiatives" with the protesters regarding a way to hand over gunmen who allegedly infiltrated the sit-in after attacking a nearby security checkpoint.
"When the armed forces moved to enforce the law, backed by anti-riot units, they came under heavy fire ... a matter that prompted a showdown," the ministry said in a statement.
"A number of our troops fell martyrs and a number of gunmen from al-Qaeda and Baathist collaborators were killed."
The term "Baathist" is used by the government to refer to loyalists of Saddam Hussein's now-defunct Baath Party.
The army said it had arrested 75 suspected insurgents and seized weapons following the crackdown.
The protesters said their sit-in was peaceful.
Sunni lawmaker Walid al-Mohammadi condemned the incident as a "massacre" and blamed the Shiite-dominated government.
"This government's record is full of failure ... This act can trigger a civil war in the country."
Elsewhere, mortar shells were fired at a mosque in the city of Baquba, some 100 kilometres north-east of Baghdad, leaving nine worshippers dead, said police.
Gunmen, meanwhile, shot dead a mosque imam in the city of Mosul, some 400 kilometres north of Baghdad.
Iraq has witnessed near-daily attacks since US troops withdrew in December 2011, raising fears of a return to the sectarian unrest that drove the country to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007.
Members of the country's Sunni minority have been holding protests for four months, demanding Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to repeal laws they claim target Sunnis.