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Fears of civil war in Iraq after 1,000 are killed in a month

People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq, May 16.
People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq, May 16.Karim Kadim / AP file

BAGHDAD - More than 1,000 people were killed in violence in Iraq in May, making it the deadliest month since the sectarian slaughter of 2006-07, the United Nations reported on Saturday, raising fears of a return to civil war.

"That is a sad record," Martin Kobler, the U.N. envoy in Baghdad, said in a statement. "Iraqi political leaders must act immediately to stop this intolerable bloodshed."

Nearly 2,000 people have been killed in the last two months as al Qaeda and Sunni Islamist insurgents, invigorated by the Sunni-led revolt in neighboring Syria and by Iraqi Sunni discontent at home, seek to revive the kind of all-out inter-communal conflict that killed tens of thousands in 2006-2007.

Just this week, multiple bombings battered Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, where at least 70 people were killed on Monday and 25 on Thursday.

The renewed bloodletting reflects worsening tensions between Iraq's Shiite-led government and its Sunni minority, seething with resentment at their treatment since Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 and later hanged.

Al Qaeda's local wing and other Sunni armed groups are now regaining ground lost during the long battle with U.S. troops.

An Iraqi army raid on a Sunni protest camp in the town of Hawija in April ignited violence that killed more than 700 people in that month, by a U.N. count. That had been the highest monthly toll in almost five years until it was exceeded in May.

At the height of Iraq's sectarian violence, when Baghdad was carved up between Sunni and Shi'ite gunmen who preyed on rival communities, the monthly death count sometimes topped 3,000.