BAGHDAD, May 19: Gunmen killed an oil ministry official on Thursday and escalating violence claimed at least 21 more lives, fuelling fears Iraq may be moving towards civil war. In the worst incident, eight people were killed in the northern city of Mosul after gunmen attacked the house of a local politician.

The oil official, Ali Hameed, was shot outside his home as he left for work, police said. Gunmen have assassinated dozens of government officials in Baghdad over the past two years.

In Mosul, Fawwaz al Jarba, the politician whose house came under attack, said his driver and three guards were among the dead. He said US troops backed by helicopters responded to his request for help. Fawwaz Jarba is distrusted by some Sunnis because he won election to parliament as a member of a Shia-dominated coalition.

In Baghdad, a university professor was shot dead, an Iraqi soldier was killed in a suicide bombing, and four others were kidnapped. A roadside bomb also killed an American soldier in the capital, the US military said.

The escalation in violence has raised concerns the country could erupt into a full-scale civil war. Discoveries of people killed execution-style and dumped at various sites have stirred sectarian passions. More than 50 bodies have been found since Saturday.

Four bodies were found on Thursday, this time just south of Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit. Police said they had been shot.

Top Sunni leader Harith al Dhari this week publicly accused the Badr Brigades, the militia of the main Shia political party, of assassinating Sunni preachers, in a sign of worsening sectarian tensions.

It was the first time Harith Dhari had publicly accused the armed wing of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which was part of the Shia-based coalition that won a majority in parliament in the Jan 30 elections.

Harith Dhari’s Muslim Clerics Association called for a three-day closure of mosques in protest at the killings and warned that Sunnis would not keep silent.—Reuters

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