Violence kills 27 as Iraq cabinet talks security

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Violence in Iraq killed 27 people on Tuesday, officials said, as the cabinet discussed how to curb unrest that has left over 500 dead this month and raised fears of all-out sectarian conflict.

The United Nations envoy to Iraq meanwhile urged the country's feuding leaders to meet to resolve long-running political crises that have paralysed the government and been blamed for its inability to halt the bloodshed.

As of Tuesday, 530 people have been killed and more than 1,300 wounded in May, making it the deadliest month in at least a year, according to Agence France-Presse figures based on reports from security and medical sources.

May is the second month in a row in which more than 400 people have been killed, for a total of almost 1,000 dead in less than two months - a toll that continued to mount on Tuesday.

Attacks in Baghdad, including a bomb that exploded on a bus in the Shi'ite Sadr City area in the capital's north, killed at least six people and wounded more than 30, officials said.

North of the capital, a suicide truck bomber killed four people and wounded eight in Tarmiyah, and three relatives of the deputy head of the Salaheddin provincial council were gunned down near Baiji.

Gunmen also killed two Sahwa anti-Al-Qaeda militiamen and wounded two more near Tikrit, north of Baghdad, while a third was shot dead in the northern city of Kirkuk.

In Mosul, four police and four gunmen died in clashes, and gunmen also shot dead a tribal sheikh in the northern city.

And a bombing near Mosul killed police intelligence officer Lieutenant Colonel Faris al-Rashidi and wounded three other police, while a suicide bomber driving an explosives-rigged vehicle killed a soldier and wounded two south of the city.

The attacks come a day after a wave of violence, including bombings in Baghdad that mainly targeted Shi'ite areas, killed 58 people and wounded 187.

As the violence raged, the cabinet discussed Iraq's "security challenges" and ways to address them, afterwards announcing a series of measures aimed at stemming the bloodletting.

These measures included "pursuing all kinds of militias", calling for a meeting of political powers to discuss developments, providing unspecified support to security agencies, and warning the media against inciting sectarian strife, said a cabinet statement.

Iraq has already suspended the licences of 10 satellite television channels for allegedly inciting sectarianism, although an official in the country's media regulator said on Tuesday at least some of those channels would have their licences restored "soon".

It was unclear what if any immediate impact the announced measures would have on security, especially given that authorities have unsuccessfully struggled for years to curb the violence plaguing the country.

UN envoy Martin Kobler called on Tuesday for Iraq's leaders to engage in dialogue and stop the bloodshed.

"I once again urge all Iraqi leaders to do everything possible to protect Iraqi civilians. It is their responsibility to stop the bloodshed now," said Mr Kobler.

"It is the politicians' responsibility to act immediately and to engage in dialogue to resolve the political impasse and not let terrorists benefit from their political differences."

Iraq is faced with various long-running political crises over issues ranging from power-sharing to territorial boundaries that have paralysed the government.

The country has seen a heightened level of violence since the beginning of the year, coinciding with rising discontent among Iraqi Sunnis that erupted into protests in late December.

Members of Iraq's Sunni minority, which ruled the country from its establishment after World War I until Saddam Hussein's overthrow by United States-led forces in 2003, accuse the Shi'ite-led government of marginalising and targeting their community.

Analysts say government policies that have disenfranchised Sunnis have given militant groups in Iraq both fuel and room to manoeuvre among the disillusioned community.

The government has made some concessions aimed at placating protesters and Sunnis in general, such as freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of Sunni anti-Al-Qaeda fighters, but underlying issues have yet to be addressed.

Although the violence in Iraq has fallen from its peak at the height of the sectarian conflict in 2006 and 2007, when well over 1,000 people sometimes died per month, the death toll has begun to rise again.