Gunmen kill five Kurdish security forces in northern Iraq
KIRKUK, Iraq (Reuters) - Gunmen killed five members of the Kurdish security forces at a checkpoint in northern Iraq on Sunday, bringing the day's death toll from bombings and shootings across the whole country to 14.
The attacks are the latest in a campaign of violence that has raised fears of a return to full-blown sectarian conflict in a country where Kurds, Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims have yet to find a stable way of sharing power.
The checkpoint attack took place in al-Zad, a town near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. In a separate attack, gunmen attacked a police checkpoint in the northern city of Mosul on Sunday, killing two people.
Recent attacks have targeted mosques, football fields, commercial areas and cafes where people often gather to socialize after breaking their daily fast for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
"The holy month of Ramadan should be a time for spirituality and forgiveness instead of increasing violence and division," said Martin Kobler, in his final statement as the United Nations envoy to Iraq.
"I am deeply saddened that my last words as the SRSG (UN Secretary-General's Special Representative) for Iraq have to be linked to violence and criminal acts," Kobler said.
In other incidents on Sunday, a bomb exploded near a fish market in Taji, 20 km (12 miles) north of Baghdad, killing three people. Another bomb detonated close to the house of a Sunni government-backed militia member, killing three of his relatives, police said.
Further south, gunmen shot dead a Sunni preacher (Imam) near his home in the southern city of Hilla, police and medics said.
Sectarian tensions in Iraq have been inflamed by the civil war in neighboring Syria, which has drawn in Shi'ite and Sunni fighters from Iraq and beyond to fight on opposing sides.
Sunni insurgents, including the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq, have been recruiting from Iraq's Sunni minority, which resents Shi'ite domination of their country since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Nearly 600 people have been killed in militant attacks across Iraq so far this month, according to violence monitoring group Iraq Body Count.
That is still well below the height of bloodletting in 2006-07, when the monthly death toll sometimes exceeded 3,000.
(Reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud and additional reporting by Kareem Raheem; Writing by Isabel Coles, Editing by Gareth Jones)