(Adds U.N. Security Council meeting, paragraph 15)
* Premier seeks Sunni, Kurdish support against Islamic State
* Two Sunni leaders pull out of government talks
* Islamic State will remain threat with Syrian havens - U.S.
By Raheem Salman and Alexander Dziadosz
BAGHDAD, Aug 22 Iraqi Shi'ite militiamen machine
gunned minority Sunni Muslims in a village mosque on Friday,
killing dozens just as Baghdad was trying to build a
cross-community government to fight Sunni militants whose rise
has alarmed Western powers.
A morgue official in Diyala province north of Baghdad said
68 people had been killed in the sectarian attack staged on the
Muslim day of prayer. Ambulances took the bodies 60 km (40
miles) to the provincial capital of Baquba, where
Iranian-trained Shi'ite militias are powerful and act with
Attacks on mosques are acutely sensitive and have in the
past unleashed a deadly series of revenge killings and counter
attacks in Iraq, where violence has returned to the levels of
2006-2007, the peak of a sectarian civil war.
Two influential Sunni politicians, Deputy Prime Minister
Saleh al-Mutlaq and Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jibouri, quickly
suspended participation in talks with the main Shi'ite
political alliance to form a new government.
Lawmaker Nahida al-Dayani, who is from Diyala, said about
150 worshippers were at Imam Wais mosque when the militiamen
arrived following a roadside bombing which had targeted a
security vehicle. "It is a new massacre," said Dayani, a Sunni
originally from the village where the attack happened.
"Sectarian militias entered and opened fire at worshippers.
Most mosques have no security," she told Reuters. "Some of the
victims were from one family. Some women who rushed to see the
fate of their relatives at the mosque were killed."
The bloodbath marks a setback for Prime Minister-designate
Haider al-Abadi, from the majority Shi'ite community, who is
seeking support from Sunnis and ethnic Kurds to take on the
Islamic State insurgency threatening to tear Iraq apart.
An army major who declined to be identified said the gunmen
arrived in two pickup trucks after two bombs had gone off at the
house of a Shi'ite militia leader, killing three of his men.
A Sunni tribal leader, Salman al-Jibouri, said his community
was prepared to respond in kind. "Sunni tribes have been alerted
to avenge the killings," he said.
In the northern city of Mosul, Islamic State, which this
week released a video showing the beheading of American
journalist James Foley, stoned a man to death after one of its
self-appointed courts sentenced him for adultery, witnesses
The parents of Foley, who was kidnapped while covering the
Syrian civil war, called on Friday for support to free other
foreigners still held by Islamic State fighters.
"We do pray, we beg the international community to help the
remaining hostages," Diane Foley said on MSNBC television. "We
just pray that they will be set free," she said after a long
conversation with Pope Francis, who the Vatican said called the
couple on Thursday afternoon to offer his condolences.
Abadi, Iraq's prime minister-designate, condemned Foley's
killing on his Facebook page and said Iraq would lead the fight
against Islamic State with the help of Washington and other
"The barbaric murder of journalist James Foley demonstrates
to the world the lethal mindset and impending threat of ISIS &
why they must be eradicated," he wrote.
The U.N. Security Council also condemned Foley's killing,
saying Islamic State militants and their ideology of intolerance
must be defeated.
The stoning, which happened on Thursday, was the first known
instance of the punishment by Islamic State militants in Iraq
since it seized large areas of the country in a June offensive.
Having poured in from Syria across a desert border that it does
not recognise, the movement has declared its own caliphate.
Similar stonings by the radical Sunni group have been
previously reported in Syria, where it split from al Qaeda.
Islamic State is the most powerful rebel group fighting
President Bashar al-Assad's forces in a civil war which the
United Nations said has claimed almost 200,000 lives at the very
U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to authorise air
strikes in Iraq for the first time since American troops pulled
out in 2011 has helped to slow the militants' offensive.
However, America's top soldier acknowledged that the
internationally recognised frontier between Iraq and Syria, over
which the militants have free passage, no longer meant much in
the wider conflict.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, suggested Islamic State would remain a danger until it
could no longer count on safe havens in Syria.
The White House said on Friday the United States stood ready
to take further action against Islamic State fighters and
reiterated that it would not be restricted by the Iraq-Syria
border. Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the
group is more dangerous today than it was six months ago.
Obama came close to ordering air strikes on Syria last year,
but they would have been against Assad's forces which are
fighting Islamic State in the complex war involving a range of
factions battling each other.
SYRIAN DEATH TOLL DOUBLES
At least 191,369 people have been killed in the Syrian
conflict up to April, more than double the figure documented a
year ago and probably still an underestimate, the United Nations
human rights office said on Friday.
Obama had intended to punish Assad for using chemical
weapons in the civil war - charges Damascus denied - but the air
strikes were cancelled after a Russian-brokered deal under which
Syria surrendered its chemical arsenal.
Sources familiar with Syrian government thinking say Assad
is wagering that Islamic State's push to reshape the Middle East
will eventually force a hostile West to deal with him as the
only way to tackle the threat.
Western governments which back the uprising have dismissed
the idea of rapprochement. But if the United States were to
attack Islamic State in Syria, it would find itself - however
reluctantly - fighting a common enemy with Assad.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said dialogue with
Assad would not advance the Western cause. "We may very well
find that on some occasions we are fighting the same people as
he is but that doesn't make us his ally and ... it wouldn't be
practical, sensible or helpful to even think about going down
that route," Hammond told BBC Radio.
His Dutch counterpart Frans Timmermans said the fight
against Islamic State could be successful only if it was
confronted in Syria as well as Iraq.
Iraq also faces hard decisions. The government has promised
to release from prison a former defence minister of ousted
president Saddam Hussein, a senior Sunni official said.
In an interview with the London-based Asharq al-Awsat
newspaper, Deputy Prime Minister Mutlaq did not say why the
promises to free Sultan Hashem and other Sunni military and
political leaders had been made.
Hashem's release could appease the Sunnis who dominated Iraq
until a U.S.-led invasion overthrew Saddam in 2003.
But it would mark a major concession by the government led
by Shi'ites and probably upset the Kurdish community. Hashem was
sentenced to death for a campaign under Saddam that included
gassing Kurds in the town of Halabja in 1988.
The conflict may also mean other old enemies working
together, albeit with hard bargains being struck. This includes
regional Shi'ite power Iran, which has long been at odds with
the United States over its nuclear programme.
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was quoted on Thursday by the
state news agency IRNA as saying Tehran was ready to help tackle
Islamic State in Iraq, but first wanted progress in negotiations
with world powers over the nuclear programme.
However, perhaps reflecting the sensitivity of the issue,
IRNA later reported foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham
as dismissing "reports by some news agencies about Iran and U.S.
cooperation in Iraq".
France, one of the six nations in nuclear talks with Tehran,
said this week it wanted Arab states, Iran and the five
permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to coordinate a
comprehensive response against Islamic State.
The West fears the programme aims to develop a nuclear
weapons capability, while Iran insists it is peaceful.
(Reporting by Raheem Salman and Alexander Dziadosz; Additional
reporting by Michael Georgy in Baghdad, Stephanie Nebehay in
Geneva, William Maclean and Michelle Moghtader in Dubai, John
Irish in Paris, Anthony Deutsch and Thomas Escritt in Amsterdam,
Belinda Goldsmith in London, James Mackenzie in Rome and Susan
Heavey in Washington; Writing by David Stamp; Editing by
Alastair Macdonald, Howard Goller and Eric Beech)